«I FEEL THE WORLD, AND THEY UNDERSTAND ME». ACCESSING AAC SYSTEMS FOR CHILDREN WITH SEVERE PHYSICAL OR MULTIPLE DISABILITIES
Аuchan Retail is an international retail company with a presence in 16 countries. Auchan Retail groups together in all countries the existing food retail channels: hypermarkets, convenience stores and e-commerce. The first hypermarket was opened in 1961 in France. In 2008 Auchan began operating in Ukraine and now there are 11 hypermarkets in 5 cities with more than 3 800 employees. Our mission is to improve the purchasing power and the quality of life of the greatest number of customers, with responsible, professional, committed and respected employees. Website: www.auchan.ua
THIS BUSINESS CASE CONCERNS SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT GOAL №3 AND №10
«Auchan Retail Ukraine, as a European company, has in priority of its CSR the development and the promotion of well–being for all communities in the zone its stores are located, – says HR Director Marie-Elisabeth Brunet. – That’s why we had no scruples about justification and innovation of the project in particular for Ukraine».
The number of children with disabilities is on the rise in Ukraine. There are reportedly 50 000 disabled children, 10 365 of which live in Kyiv. The parents are offered to give up their special child just after it is born, because it will never look like others. Children with multiple disabilities (autism, cerebral palsy, Down syndrome, intellectual disability, genetic disease) are facing two possibilities: an asylum, where they study and live all at the same time, or a home detention with complete isolation. Besides, such social program includes disability pension of UAH 1200 with a living wage equal to UAH 1450. That is an echo of Soviet times, when disabled people were left behind with special infrastructure, in contradiction to the European inclusive approach that is to enable their living next to the ordinary people.
Every week Auchan Retail Ukraine receives requests from charity funds, associations and directly from parents to help children with special needs. In the most of cases, it is about the things we can’t live without: grocery basket, hygiene items, cloths. There is often a solicitation to put boxes to collect money or simply to make a donation to child support.
Ukraine officially declared the problem with autistic children only few years ago. Thus far, the main question at the state level is how to provide conditions for special children to survive, to get palliative care and to go studying. Nevertheless, there are some local institutions not only promoting the idea of rehabilitation and social integration of special children, but also carrying it out on their own steam. NGO “Rodyna” is one of them. It is a parent-run organisation that provides support and information for families who have children with disabilities and special needs. The main activity is a daily rehabilitation center, where children get social care services by interacting with special educators and volunteers in order to modify their behavior and create conditions for their development. Little girl with trisomy syndrome named Nastia also attends center. Her aunt works at Auchan Kiltseva store and it was her to reveal the facts of special children life in Kyiv and to talk about “Rodyna” to the hypermarket direction. «I also have a little son. He feels good. Every child has a right to have a future worth living. And if we have the opportunity to build it, we are not allowed to waste it!» – said Auchan Kiltseva store manager Philippe Landron.
Parents from “Rodyna” claim that most successful and effective tool for their children is PECS, a unique augmentative/alternative communication (AAC) intervention package for individuals with autism spectrum disorder and related developmental disabilities. Сhildren using PECS are taught to approach another person and give them a picture of a desired item in exchange for that item. By doing so, the child is able to initiate communication. The child with autism can use PECS to communicate a request, a thought, or anything that can reasonably be displayed or symbolized on a picture card. PECS works well in the home or in the classroom. The only trouble is that PECS is not adapted to the modern pace of life. The store team checked it during the very first meeting with children at the end of 2014, when Nastia took Superman toy and hasn’t manage to explain it because of lack of relevant image.
The situation made the hypermarket team and the parents from “Rodyna” surfing the Internet in search of solution both effective and up-to-date. Few time later we came across the article issued in the same year where an American college professor Ann Kaiser, was talking about the crucial impact of new computer technologies on children with special needs development. It is said that as a result, all the children that took part in the study and were using iPad, learned new spoken words, and several learned to produce short sentences. That is a real sensation in the sphere of destructive and aggressive behavior modification in non-verbal children that can express neither their feelings nor their wishes, so the others don’t understand them.
In 2015 within the partnership between NGO «Rodyna» and Аuchan Kiltseva hypermarket the project «I feel the world, and they understand me» was implemented. It was aimed to access AAC systems for children with severe physical or multiple disabilities by using tablets with special software. The Auchan Yourth Foundation provided a grant to purchase 10 iPads and 10 applications Autism.Communication, so 10 children from 4 to 11 years old were able to converse the new way. Autism.Communication was the first and the unique app in Russian for iOS, helping children with autistic disabilities to interact with the environment and practice spontaneous speech. The app has a built-in communicator that the child may use to define the object or make sentence. The ability to generate speech is useful in teaching speaking to the children. There are also 150 images that a child can discriminate and sort by categories: animals, vegetables, fruits, letters, figures, forms, colors etc. The main advantage of the new device is that it is quite adaptive to the user so he can operate with well-known terms and easy introduce the new ones. In fact, that is PECS, but more portative and with additional options.
«I was impressed with the dynamism of «Rodyna» in their work with children. Our children is our future. The store direction and I unanimously decided that we can’t be less dynamic in our cooperation with the NGO», – remembers Philippe Landron. Except for financial support, the store employees-volunteers prepared an animation schedule with children for 2014-2016. They wanted to improve their socialization and to highlight the problem of people with special needs in Ukraine. Every month they held a special event, associated to social and cultural part of life (everyday affairs, religious and national holidays, culture and education). For exemple, purchaising in store exploring the store department and its specific, cooking workshop, tree planting in the Zoo, visiting of Christmas decoration factory, photo shoot, flashmob inside and outside the store. «The event on Maidan cut me to the heart. Children with the employees-volunteers put together the pieces of the puzzle representing the map of Ukraine. The strangers passing by stopped and talked to children and employees. Then I realized that we are on the right way», – confesses Philippe Landron. The meetings keep on going.
According to the project, every child had his own development program that included preliminary diagnosis, individual work planning and efficiency evaluation. Daily schedule program turned out to be the most useful. 100% of participants use it. The apps helps children to find out what they are willing to do during the day, and to make changes if needed. So, in order to prepar children for the event with employees from «Аuchan», their parents show them what they will do, where and with whom. Each child has different level of program acquisition. Only 20% of users feel free in using the app. 60% of participants master the Ipad when they are concentrated, which is often difficult to attain due to their physiological disabilities. The rest are at the beginning. Parents says their children became calm; they don’t express aggression to strangers. When they want to say something or to show what they feel, they use tablets.
The project had an effect on the store employees, and it worth saying! At the very beginning there were 5 participants including the employee-mentor, that is responsible for the project implementation and reports to the Auchan Youth Foundation. More than 100 store employees were engaged to the project for all the time (workers, managers and direction members), 13 of them are permanent participants. 25 common events doubled the benefit of the project: the employees became more open-minded and discovered the other world, and the children change right in front of the eyes. Auchan Kiltseva store manager says, «…”Rodyna” really increased motivation in my team and it helps me to manage it in my everyday life». Parents are also happy, because children made friendship with the employees-volunteers and mummies can have a rest for 2 hours while they are performing in store. Each time they met, employees tend to be more creative in the project: some business partner were engaged (МARS and Zoologacal garden in Kyiv), new ways of fundraising were used (providing goods for lemonade and sandwiches during the public event in the city center), social enterprise inside the store (employees can bring secondhand cloths or toys which are to be sold in the social store of the NGO “Dobroslon” . And the external recognition (2 awards of HR-brand conference at the end of 2015 and the trophy at the competition «Сharitable Ukraine» at the beginning of 2016) proves that business in Ukraine can and have to be responsible and we will make our best to bring it to life!