Therapist retires after 36 years of helping students find their voice
A speech and language therapist who has helped hundreds of National Star students find their voice is retiring after 36 years.
When Jon Brough arrived at National Star in 1981, it was just the beginning of the computer age.
Jon was involved with a National Star project, led by King’s College London, exploring how to use computers as communication aids.
Until then, the only communication devices were simple alphabet boards or the POSSUM, which had a screen connected to a typewriter and a person could use a switch to select the keys and build up words.
‘It was such an exciting time. I remember sitting in front of that first computer and typing things then deleting them off the screen,’ said Jon.
‘Suddenly it didn’t matter if you made a mistake, you could just delete it. Using communication devices was so stressful for students because they worried about making mistakes and how long it took to correct them. Computers changed all of that.’
Jon studied environmental biology at university but his career took a change after he attended an intensive course to master his stammer.
‘I used to have a bad stammer and this course helped me a lot. It gave me an interest in speech and language therapy and especially with how cerebral palsy affected speech.’
But he didn’t plan to stay in the profession. His dad was in the motor trade and Jon, who lives in Minchinhampton, planned to go into business after a couple of years.
His love of engines and gadgets served him well as technology played a bigger and bigger part in speech and language therapy.
Jon was one the first six people in the country to take a Masters in assistive technology. He specialised in the use of communication devices for environmental controls – that is using communicators to remotely control doors, TVs, lights and even curtains in a room.
He started as National Star’s sole speech and language therapist. As the department grew, he was appointed head.
Then, 11 years ago, his professional life became very personal. Whilst in Canada on a ski instructors course, his eldest son Jonathan, then 18, contracted meningitis, which left him paralysed and on a ventilator.
Jon’s expertise in assistive technology, and, at the time communication devices which track eye movement to move a cursor, enabled him to support Jonathan’s ability to communicate.
He went part-time at National Star so that he could support Jonathan when he went to Plymouth University to take a media degree. Now Jonathan is settled in his own bungalow at Minchinhampton.
Jon says it is time for him to retire and to start doing some things for himself, which includes working on the collection of motorcycle and hill climb cars he has amassed over the years.
What kept him going for 36 years? Always the students.
‘I always felt such pride when I would attend the college’s reunions and see the former students still using the communication devices I made for them,’ said Jon.