Staff at a special educational needs school have launched a campaign to make Alfreton the first Makaton Friendly town in the Midlands.
Josie O’Donnell, 31, a teacher at Alfreton Park Community Special School, is spearheading the effort, and has already seen what a difference the simplified form of sign language can make.
She said: “I’ve been at the school for eight years now, and have used Makaton since day one. In 2016 I qualified as a tutor and during my training I heard about how whole towns have adopted it.
“Romsey in Hampshire was the first, then Bedale in Yorkshire. When businesses, shops and other establishments take it on, it makes a community much more inclusive.
"As Makaton tutors, we want to spread it across the country and get as many towns on board as possible.”
Josie has already delivered training sessions for several local employers, and has more queuing up to take part.
She said: “It is brilliant that Alfreton is recognising the importance of Makaton and embracing the difference it can make to the lives of people with communication and learning difficulties.
“Our classes go out into the community every week and many of our former students and their families still live locally. The more people there are who understand Makaton, the more livable the place becomes.”
She added: “It can also make people less apprehensive about how to approach a customer with additional needs. Breaking down those barriers helps everyone.”
Makaton is a basic set of visual hand signs which are intended to support and reinforce spoken communication, or serve as an alternative in some cases — but it does not replicate the full complexity of language in the same way the traditional British Sign Language.
While it is increasingly common to find it being used in schools, the system is not only for children. It can also be used to communicate with adults with disabilities, or those whose speech has been affected by something like a stroke.
Its hand signs are adaptable for anyone whose range of motion is also limited.
Josie said: “It is an amazing programme which can make all the difference for people with little or no speech. Everyone deserves a voice and everyone deserves to be understood.”
The staff of the Derwent Diner, on High Street, were delighted to be the first business to achieve Makaton Friendly status.
Josie said: “It’s somewhere we visit quite a lot with students, and the staff wanted to provide a place where people can feel relaxed and able to access their service no matter what their communication needs.
“Now they feel much better equipped to do that, and they have added lots of signs to their walls and other resources.
“It’s particularly good for our older students when they are trying to become more independent.”
Other organisations who have shown interest in the training include Alfreton Town Council, Alfreton police, Barclays Bank, Tesco and Watchorn Christian School.
Josie said: “Any organisation can contact us to set up a training session, which usually lasts for 60-90 minutes.
“I will teach a set of 20 basic signs plus others which will be useful in context. If it’s a shop we will do the signs for money. If it’s a café we will do food and drink, and so on.
“It’s designed to be very simple, with signs which make sense visually as representations of the object they describe. It’s all very obvious and not tricky to learn.”
Once training is complete the business or workplace can then display the Makaton Friendly sign in their window.
For more details, call Alfreton Park school on 01773 832019 or write to Josie via firstname.lastname@example.org.