Holland Bloorview Kids Rehabilitation Hospital is proud to congratulate Tracy Shepherd, director of our Centralized Equipment Pool (CEP), on her recent appointment as president of the executive board for the International Society for Augmentative and Alternative Communication (ISAAC), effective October 1, 2022.
Founded in Toronto in 1983, ISAAC International is a global organization compiled of members committed to supporting individuals with complex communication needs through the use of augmentative and alternative communication (AAC). Their mission is rooted in generating awareness of AAC, promoting innovation and sharing perspectives with countries and regions around the world.
Tracy Shepherd joined Holland Bloorview as a clinical education coordinator with CEP in 2005 and was recently promoted to her current role as director of CEP in May of this year. Tracy has been involved on ISAAC’s board in a variety of roles since 1991. We interviewed Tracy about her experience with Holland Bloorview, her work with ISAAC and passion for AAC.
Could you share a bit about your experience as a speech and language pathologist and how this has led to your journey with Holland Bloorview as director of CEP?
I started working clinically in 1991. Even in my clinical placements when I was training to be a speech language pathologist, I was always interested in AAC. In fact, I was working with a family as a special services at home worker during that time who had two kids who used AAC. That experience really highlighted how much I love that kind of work. I spent 25 years working with the Thames Valley Children’s Centre (TVCC) and had just finished my time with them when I became the director of CEP at Holland Bloorview. I’d been involved with Holland Bloorview and CEP since 2005 when I joined to become a clinical education coordinator. Before my role as a director, I had held a leadership role at TVCC as a clinical coordinator. When the opportunity appeared at CEP I felt like it was the next best thing for me and luckily Holland Bloorview thought so too.
What do you admire about ISAAC as an organization? What inspired you to become a part of their executive board?
ISAAC is such a great organization of likeminded people. They all have the best interests in mind of folks who use AAC and their families from all across the world. That’s the other really neat part of it, being in connection with folks globally and focusing on similar issues, in different countries with different cultures and funding. We can work together to share information and ideas which is really helpful. ISAAC also has a really strong research connection and community. It helps to promote best practice because people are working together and it can really influence the clinical work by having that research background. In ISAAC, you’re making partnerships and sharing resources, but you make a lot of good friends there as well. I love learning and being challenged and these opportunities in ISAAC have given me a chance to scratch that itch and learn new things all the time. When I was nominated to be president elect from my ISAAC peers, it was such an honour.
What goals do you want to achieve in your new role with ISAAC?
One larger project we’d like to focus on this year is a website re-design and re-development. We do a lot of our work in advocacy or awareness through our website. That’s one of our main communication channels. It’s important we update the website’s infrastructure, reach and technology. We also have some ambitious goals when it comes to conferencing. ISAAC has a conference every two years and we haven’t actually been together in person since 2018. Our next in-person conference is set for July 2023 in Cancún, Mexico. Then we’re planning for the following year, 2024, to do a conference in Rome. These events were on the books pre-COVID and now we’re hopeful we can get them off the ground. We’re always trying to expand our reach to new regions, including looking at countries in Asia and Eastern Europe to become ISAAC chapters.
What do you find is the most rewarding part of the work you do with both ISAAC and Holland Bloorview?
Just knowing that we’re making an impact whether that’s large or small. We’re giving a voice to people who communicate differently. We’re giving people a way to make connections. Connections are so important. We’ve learned this especially over the last little while. Giving folks a way to connect, learn, work and participate is so important. AAC is my passion. You can see it through the work I’ve done and I’m really lucky I’ve had the opportunity to work in this area for so long. Now, I hope I can influence on a larger scale through my role with ISAAC and with Holland Bloorview to help make an impact.
What do you think contributes to your success as a leader?
For me, leadership is all about people. It’s about relationships and supporting other people to do their best work and be their best selves. When the tricky bits come, it’s nice to know we all share the same values. We’re trying to put people who use AAC and their families first, so we can get through those tricky moments together as a team. Communication and listening is so important. Not just the communication but the listening as well. That’s where you learn the most.
What do you wish more folks knew about augmentative and alternative communication?
This is really at the heart of what ISAAC does. One of our biggest goals is to increase awareness about AAC worldwide. It’s a pretty ambitious goal, but you have to dream big. I want people to know everyone can communicate, it just might look different. The onus is on us to be good communication partners and learn how to find the best way to communicate with them.
The other piece about AAC I’d like folks to consider is communication access. Accessibility as far as the built-environment, like being able to get into a building if you’re in a wheelchair or have mobility differences is one thing, but being able to communicate when you’re in that space is just as important. Communication, is only second to breathing in terms of importance. I would love everyone in the world to know you can communicate, no matter what.
For more information on ISAAC and to see their full executive board, visit their website.