Sponsored Silence Increases Public Awareness What better way to help people understand the importance of communication than to take communication away? In “Sponsored Silence,” a unique and compelling education and public relations program developed by Speech Pathology Australia and replicated by the Ohio Speech-Language-Hearing Association (OSLHA), individuals in a public forum experience the loss of ... Features
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Features  |   May 01, 2008
Sponsored Silence Increases Public Awareness
Author Notes
  • Martha Coen-Cummings, chair of the OSLHA Sponsored Silence program, served as OSLHA president in 1999–2000. Contact her at Martha.Coen-Cummings@cchmc.org.
    Martha Coen-Cummings, chair of the OSLHA Sponsored Silence program, served as OSLHA president in 1999–2000. Contact her at Martha.Coen-Cummings@cchmc.org.×
  • Katrina Zeit, is OSLHA president and Ohio representative to the ASHA State Advocates for Reimbursement (STAR) Network. Contact her at katrina.zeit@cchmc.org.
    Katrina Zeit, is OSLHA president and Ohio representative to the ASHA State Advocates for Reimbursement (STAR) Network. Contact her at katrina.zeit@cchmc.org.×
Article Information
Speech, Voice & Prosodic Disorders / Augmentative & Alternative Communication / School-Based Settings / Practice Management / Professional Issues & Training / Features
Features   |   May 01, 2008
Sponsored Silence Increases Public Awareness
The ASHA Leader, May 2008, Vol. 13, 22-23. doi:10.1044/leader.FTR4.13062008.22
The ASHA Leader, May 2008, Vol. 13, 22-23. doi:10.1044/leader.FTR4.13062008.22
What better way to help people understand the importance of communication than to take communication away? In “Sponsored Silence,” a unique and compelling education and public relations program developed by Speech Pathology Australia and replicated by the Ohio Speech-Language-Hearing Association (OSLHA), individuals in a public forum experience the loss of their ability to communicate orally.
The Sponsored Silence project in Ohio grew out of OSLHA’s desire to create a significant and meaningful public awareness campaign to launch Better Hearing and Speech Month projects throughout the state. In 2000, OSLHA’s president attended Speech Pathology Australia’s annual conference, both to present as a guest lecturer on auditory processing disorders and also to bring back unique ideas to OSLHA’s executive board.
One exciting idea that came from that meeting was the Sponsored Silence project, which Speech Pathology Australia was implementing nationwide. To date, OSLHA has implemented three Sponsored Silence events in Ohio and is planning a fourth. This project can be implemented easily and readily by other state associations or by any ASHA member who would like to raise community awareness of communication disorders (see sidebar, p. 23).
Raising Public Awareness
The goal of a Sponsored Silence event is to increase public awareness about the importance of communication and the profound isolation that may occur when communication is disrupted or completely lost. In each Sponsored Silence event, a community leader (such as a school principal or local legislator) whose profession depends upon the ability to communicate effectively agrees to refrain from speaking for 15 minutes during a work activity (of his or her choosing) that normally involves face-to-face communication with others. To communicate during this time period, the community leader may not talk or write and may use only an augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) device.
Before the event, graduate students and/or professionals in communication sciences and disorders pre-program the AAC device with topic-related vocabulary provided by the community leader. They also train the leader to use the AAC device.
Given that the participating community leaders know who they will be talking to and what they will be saying—and their prior training on the AAC device—they typically feel fairly confident going into the Sponsored Silence event. The fluidity of conversations, however, as well as the natural turn-taking that occurs between speakers and listeners, result in the leaders’ inability to respond to all questions or share all of their thoughts.
In all three of the events, each of the community leaders was completely amazed at the significance of communication and the profound changes that occur in communication when one loses that power and must rely on a device to speak. Capturing that reaction is critical; a videotaped interview with the community leader immediately following the event can serve as a valuable tool for community education and promotion of future Sponsored Silent events.
The community leaders and those who observe their communication difficulties gain an increased awareness of who SLPs serve, what they do, and how they can help. This awareness can ultimately help to secure funding and access to speech and language services and to encourage young students to enter the profession.
Fundraising Potential
A Sponsored Silence event can also include fundraising for a specific speech and hearing cause through contributions. Sponsors may be the community leader’s co-workers or students, audience members, observers, or anyone with an interest in keeping the leader quiet! Sponsors agree to pay a nominal fee for each minute that the leader remains silent. Contributions may be designated for a speech and hearing cause championed by the community leader or donated to the state speech and hearing professional association for a consumer scholarship fund that helps support access to services.
Sponsored Silence is powerful and effective because it is just as versatile and adaptable as communication. The event can include:
  • Any community leader (who agrees to it)

  • Any communicative setting (vocational, educational, social, etc.)

  • Any day or time; most organizers prefer to conduct the event in April to launch a public relations campaign for Better Hearing and Speech Month

Most importantly, perhaps, it is the community leader and observers of the event who provide the testimony for the power of communication. They typically express this sentiment so eloquently following the event that the speech and hearing professional need not add anything more.
Warren McClellan, a middle-school principal who participated in a Sponsored Silence event, summarized his experience, saying, “You don’t know what you’ve got until you lose it!”
Examples of Sponsored Silence Events

OSLHA has conducted three Sponsored Silent events, with a fourth scheduled for later this year:

  • Warren McClellan, Loveland Intermediate School principal, communicated via AAC with students during a recess and classroom period. The students and staff sponsored the event by donating money to keep their principal “quiet.” Proceeds were donated to the special education fund of the Loveland school district.

  • State Sen. David Goodman held a town hall meeting in a Columbus nursing home to discuss political issues, communicating with residents using an AAC device.

  • Nancy Zimpher, University of Cincinnati (UC) president, and Elizabeth King, dean of the College of Allied Health Sciences, used an AAC device to present part of their opening addresses at the College’s 2007 research conference. The UC chapter of the National Student Speech Language Hearing Association made a donation to OSLHA to mark the event.

  • A fourth event, scheduled for December at a UC basketball game, will feature a radio sports commentator. At half-time, the announcer will use only a pre-programmed AAC device to comment on the first half of the game and to promote speech and hearing services to spectators. The announcer will also interview an individual who uses an AAC device. Other universities in Ohio will be challenged to follow UC’s lead and implement a Sponsored Silence event.

Key steps in organizing a Sponsored Silence event include:

  • Choose and solicit the community leader

  • Select a time for the event and define the leader’s activity

  • Recruit volunteers to help organize and publicize the event

  • Secure an AAC device

  • Train the community leader to use the AAC device

  • Determine if sponsorship is appropriate

  • Arrange for media coverage

  • Record the event, including follow-up interviews with participants

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May 2008
Volume 13, Issue 6