Zipwire challenge aims to help charity which gives people a voice

Kate McCallum practises for the zipwire challenge.
Kate McCallum practises for the zipwire challenge.
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A Lancaster woman is to spend the night suspended from a zip wire in a hammock in a bid to raise funds and awareness for a charity which helps people with communication problems.

Kate McCallum will be joined by her friend Craig Brown from Carnforth on the challenge, which takes place this weekend.

Kate McCallum.

Kate McCallum.

They will be raising money for 1Voice – Communicating Together, a unique charity which provides a network of support for people who use augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) to speak, and also supports their families, friends and professionals.

AAC made the headlines recently thanks to Britain’s Got Talent winner Lee Ridley, known as ‘Lost Voice Guy’.

AAC takes many forms, such as sign language, communication books or specialist voice output communication aids like a tablet computer (like Lee Ridley uses). These can be accessed in many different ways depending on the person’s ability.

Kate has been surrounded by AAC almost her whole life, after her younger brother Rob was born with additional needs.

Craig Brown.

Craig Brown.

She has since worked in a range of settings – an AAC assessment centre, an SEN school, for a AAC company, and currently as a trustee for the charity, 1 Voice – Communicating Together, and in her day job as an AAC technician.

“My journey into AAC began when I was five,” Kate said. “My brother was born with additional needs and is non-verbal as a result.

“As I was growing up each time I threw a penny in a wishing well or blew the candles out on my birthday cake I would wish the same wish, it was that one day my brother would speak.

“My brother has always had a desire to communicate and will go to great lengths to try to make himself understood.

“All of his life I have witnessed his frustration trying to get his message across.

“When his attempts to communicate have been ignored or misunderstood he has had periods when he has isolated himself and retreated from normal everyday activity or displayed what is perceived as challenging behaviour.

“As a result of watching this day in day out I am a strong believer that all behaviour is communication and access to AAC should be a human right.”

Despite being in a special school all his life Kate’s brother was only ever taught Makaton sign language.

“Makaton is fantastic but unless you know the signs you can’t understand what he is saying and he has to rely on someone interpreting for him which limits his independence,” said Kate, who is also the co-founder of SignOutLoud, a Makaton signing group.

“This was a huge barrier to him communicating outside of his immediate circle of family and friends who know him really well.

“It was also useless if the person with him could not see him, for example when in the back of the car.

“School simply didn’t know anything about other forms of communication aids and that is the case for many people.”

In 1995 Kate went volunteering at The Bendrigg Trust outdoor centre, which caters for people with disabilities.

There, she met a woman who was using a voice output communication aid.

“The concept of pressing a button a getting a words out was so exciting I spent the next few years trying to find out what these talking boxes were and to get my brother one,” she said.

“Six years later, age 18, my brother got his first communication aid with lots of practice he learnt to use it and it not only changed his life but the lives of those around him.

“We no longer had to guess what he wanted or interpret what he meant he could tell us.”

Kate became involved in 1Voice after hearing the co-founder of the charity talking at the Communication Matters conference in 2001.

She said money raised will help 1Voice to continue its vital work.

“Often children and young people have never met another person who uses AAC, they can be the only person in their school or their community who uses AAC and this can be extremely isolating,” she said.

“At 1Voice they meet each other, grew in confidence and begin to dream about the future.

“They meet role models, friendships blossom and expectations of what’s possible rise.

“There is such a demand for 1Voice and people keep telling us what a vital service we provide.”

Kate now hopes that Britain’s Got Talent winner Lee Ridley will help to raise positive awareness of AAC.

“Before Lee became well known the only way we had to describe AAC was to reference the late Stephen Hawking,” she said. “Lee is a fabulous person and I’ve had the pleasure of seeing him perform live two times, most recently at the Lancaster comedy club.

“He’s a fantastic person with an hilarious sense of humour.”

Kate and Craig take on the “Z’s on a Zip Wire” challenge overnight on June 16 to 17.

They will spend 12 hours overnight suspended from the zip wire at the Bendrigg Trust in Cumbria.

Wearing full climbing harness they will attempt to camp out under the stars in the suspended hammocks.

“I’m excited and nervous about the challenge,” Kate said. “I hate midges so I’m hoping for a light breeze all night to keep them away.

“Completing all the tasks of daily living, eating, drinking, sleeping, all in hammocks is going to be a challenge, especially answering calls of nature.

“Lads have it slightly easier than lasses!”

You can help Kate and Craig reach their £5,000 target by donating at https://uk.virginmoneygiving.com/Team/ZsonaZipWire