Emerson College’s only independent, student-run newspaper since 1947

The Berkeley Beacon

Emerson College’s only independent, student-run newspaper since 1947

The Berkeley Beacon

Emerson College’s only independent, student-run newspaper since 1947

The Berkeley Beacon

Empowering Inclusive Play: Kristin Britton and Patti Nelson collaborate with the Flutie Foundation to bring communication boards to Norwell

Kristin Britton, left, and Patti Nelson, right, at the ribbon cutting ceremony for the picture communication board in Norwell, Mass. (Photo courtesy of Patti Nelson)

Emerson communications sciences and disorders (CSD) alums Kristin Britton and Patti Nelson partnered with Doug Flutie Jr. Foundation for Autism to bring picture communication boards to Norwell, MA. The boards will facilitate a more inclusive environment for those with autism and other developmental delays. 

The Flutie Foundation is a non-profit organization that empowers individuals with autism and their families by providing grants and adaptive programs. The picture communication boards from the Flutie Foundation will help children start conversations with their peers, navigate social situations, and express themselves regardless of ability level. These boards are designed with a consistent color coding system that allows for faster vocabulary identification.

The picture communication boards were introduced to Norwell on Oct. 21 with a ribbon-cutting ceremony, including members of the community and a representative from the Flutie Foundation.

“The design of the communication boards is based on core vocabulary often used at a playground. Mayer Johnson picture symbols were used, which are generally recognized by users of Augmentative and Alternative Communication,” said Nelson, a senior scholar-in-residence and undergraduate curriculum coordinator for CSD. “These picture symbols are color coded by the part of speech to facilitate learning by the user of the system.” 

Both Britton and Nelson are on the Commission on Disabilities in Norwell, where they work in partnership with local authorities, citizens, companies, and groups to advance accessibility, inclusion, and understanding of all kinds of disabilities, including physical, cognitive, sensory, and developmental. The commission funded two picture communication boards in Norwell.

“These communication boards are a sustainable project that will be around for years to come,” Nelson said. 

Britton and Nelson had the idea in the works for several years. The process of obtaining the picture communication boards involved applying for a grant through the Flutie Foundation, filling out a one-page application, and submitting the percentage of the town’s population that was minimally verbal or nonverbal. 

“What we are doing is normalizing disability and also recognizing that communication is beyond just spoken language,” Britton said. 

Britton and Nelson have been ensuring the community is informed about the purpose of these boards by gathering feedback through social media posts and have drawn up plans to offer tutorial programs in Norwell’s library.

“We have already observed young children using the board without any training. Organically, any attempt at communication is wonderful. There is no improper use of the board,” said Nelson. 

Britton and Nelson’s collaboration with the Flutie Foundation reflects on their background at Emerson’s Communications and Science Disorder department, they said. 

“Part of the mission of the CSD department and of Emerson is to be an inclusive environment, provide access, break down barriers among community members, and support the mission of the college to be inclusive,” said Nelson, who added that they have played an outsized role in her work with disability and communication projects in Norwell.

Given Nelson’s experience in education, she sees the picture communication boards impacting the educational environments for those with autism and other developmental delays.

“The use of the stationary picture boards will be an accessible means to communicate without access to an individual’s typical means of communication,” Nelson said. “The boards can augment any or all attempts at communication.”

While Nelson brings her background in education, Britton’s current role as director of disability access of the Department of Transitional Assistance, allows her to incorporate her values of inclusion in her work through the picture communication boards.

“Universal design means developing physical, learning, recreational, and work environments so that they are usable by a wide range of people, regardless of abilities,” Britton said. “When we do this, we all benefit from the diversity of perspectives, experiences, and innovative ideas that people with disabilities bring to multiple tables.” 

The Flutie Foundation is planning to add a playground communication board to every town in Massachusetts by the end of 2023. 

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Sofia Waldron, Reels Editor
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