A Voice for Every Child
Non-verbal children have so much to say - help them express themselves
Around 10,000 children with disabilities and special needs in Bulgaria are estimated to be out of school. Latest data from MoES for 2019/2020 shows that the total number of children with disabilities and special needs in kindergartens and schools are over 25,000. Almost 15,000 of those children are with multiple disabilities, cerebral palsy, sensory difficulties, autistic spectrum disorder, and they experience difficulties in verbal communication.
The inclusion of children with special needs in mainstream kindergartens and schools without tools enabling their communication and teachers and without enough training and support for the teachers is not effective and often even impossible.
Assistive technologies for non-verbal children
To help non-verbal children express themselves we need assistive technologies (AT) for augmentative and alternative communication (AAC). They can vary from books and pens facilitating communication to complicated speech synthesis devices.
All assistive technologies for augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) give non-verbal children the opportunity to communicate freely.
Although assistive technologies means are widely used in the developed European countries, the USA, Australia, Japan, etc. and are fully or partly funded by the social system, this is not the case in Bulgaria.
Only about 10% of the special education teachers in Bulgaria use low-tech AAC.
Less than 3% use Speech Generating Devices (SDG) and AT and less than 5% use them in their practice. Concerning the high-tech AT,
about 70% of the teachers report no knowledge
and only 10% use it. The main barrier to the adoption of AT is the lack of knowledge and adequate training of the professionals working with people with disabilities.
 Data from two studies carried out by Foundation ASSIST, the first with special education teachers and the second within a project funded by the European Association of Social Service Providers for Persons with Disabilities (EASPD).
UNICEF aims at the gradual introduction and use of assistive technologies for augmentative and alternative communication in Bulgaria’s kindergartens and schools so that all children can learn and communicate with their peers.
Initially, the project will be implemented in five regions up to 2022. Based on UNICEF’s partnership with the Ministry of Education and Science, the goal is the initiative to be introduced in the whole country.
In the first phase we will:
- support directly 150 children with disabilities, incl. through providing devices or other AAC tools based on their needs;
- support 150 groups/classes to become more inclusive, thus reaching around 3000 children. The groups/classes will be selected depending on the children for whom assistive technologies will enable communication.
- strengthen the capacities of 150 teachers to use these tools and technologies in everyday activities in classrooms
- develop and test an application for symbol communication which will further support the participation of children with disabilities in education and other areas of life. The application will be available to all the children, parents and teachers who need it, completely free of charge.
- increase understanding and awareness of the need to use augmentative and alternative communication and the available tools and technologies
- develop training programme for specialists and teachers to be mainstreamed so that it reaches a larger group of teachers in the future;
Special thanks to
Beloslava, Boyko Krastanov, Divna, Dimityr Rachkov, Dimo Aleksiev, Elena Petrowa, Ivan Tishev, Ilian Lyubomirov, Irina Tencheva, Jordan Jovchev, Lyubo Kirov, Maria Grozdeva, Maria Ignatowa, Maria Ilieva, Mihaela Marinowa, Mihaela Fileva, Niki Iliev, Niki Kunchev, Orlin Pavlov, Silvia Lulcheva, Yana Marinova.