A normal life thanks to simplified language

Everybody has the right to be treated equally: that is EPCOS’ motto this year in donating 20,000 euros to support Lebenshilfe, a German association established to assist mentally disabled people and their families.

From reading aloud to reading on your own: Ulla Schmidt, national chairperson of Lebenshilfe and Vice-President of the German Parliament, encourages interest in books.

Lebenshilfe was founded in Germany by concerned parents and experts in 1958. The association helps people with mental disabilities to lead normal lives. The ability to understand texts is a vital element in this undertaking, explains Monika Haslberger, vice chairperson of Lebenshilfe. “Everyone has right to information without barriers. Only then can people make their own decisions and participate in everyday life.” However, she points out that many texts, such as official letters, contracts, newspaper articles and Internet pages, but even bus and train timetables and restaurant menus, are hard to understand, especially for people with disabilities and limited language proficiency. This is where Simplified Language comes in, an important Lebenshilfe project that EPCOS is supporting.

But what is simplified language? According to Lebenshilfe: “It uses short sentences and simple words. It follows simple rules. Difficult texts are translated into simplified language. Everyone can understand the simple texts.” One of the rules at Lebenshilfe is that people with learning difficulties should check the texts. They decide what parts are too difficult and need revising. For this the project has formed a special group of checkers, which meets regularly and checks texts written in simplified language to see how easy they are to understand.

Learning to read and write through pictograms

Understanding the meaning of symbols is the key to reading and writing. At Lebenshilfe Freising, a large facility with many offerings and groups, such as nursery school through to vocational school, there are pictograms everywhere in the building. Doors are marked with specific pictograms – for example, a guitar and drum identify the music room. Pictograms are used in the music lessons, too. Music therapist Frank Aumann and speech therapist Sintje Kantin have prepared songs for pre-school children that are supported by a tablet PC with symbols.

Own decision instead of others’ interpretation

“It’s never too early for children to start learning to make their own decisions,” says Kantin. Many, she knows, are not used to it. “Mostly it is others who interpret what children want and then make decisions for them.” Lebenshilfe teaches children that their decisions are taken seriously, not just inside the facility or the association, but also outside it as well. “We go out a lot with the children, for example, to the ice cream parlor – for this we also have special symbols on the tablet PC. The children can then show that they want, say, an ice cream “Blue Angel”. The children are thrilled when they actually get what they want. In this way even the owner of the ice cream parlor becomes a part of the therapy.” People in general must learn to accept the fact that disabled people can make their own decisions, Kantin believes. “This gives the children the security they need to feel that they belong.”

        

“Communication is a human right,” says Hildegard Waldinger, director of education and training at Lebenshilfe Freising. “You cannot live a normal life without communication.” Simplified language is an important aid to achieving this.

For more information, please visit: www.lebenshilfe.de