Makaton - a Method of Communication for the Disabled

Makaton - a Method of Communication for the Disabled

Makaton began as a research project, which aimed to find an effective method of communication between deaf adults who also had learning difficulties in the 1970s. The name stems from the three people who devised it. Margaret Walker, then Senior Speech Therapist at Botleys Park Hospital in Surrey, Kathy Johnston and Tony Cornforth - both at Psychiatric Hospital Visitors from the Royal Association in aid of the Deaf and Dumb. It was first highlighted in the 1960s that there was a need for those who were deaf and with special needs, to communicate. 14 residents at the hospital were selected, and 145 signs and symbols were identified, and were learnt at the speed of 20 every month.

From those small beginnings, it is now an internationally-recognised communication programme used in over 40 countries. Used in schools, colleges, and homes: Makaton is the main programme of communication for those with any type of learning difficulty in the UK.

Makaton is, at its heart, a training programme. The first training course was held in 1976, and to date over 50,000 people from all walks of life have taken the Makaton programme. It's an on-going learning curve, because Makaton is still growing - if a user wanted a word currently not in the Makaton vocabulary they ought to contact them directly (see website listed below).

Unlike BSL, Makaton is not actually a language, but an aid to communication, and where possible, an accompaniment to the spoken word1. BSL on the other hand, is used by those with hearing impairments, and contains its own grammar and so on, and is thus seen as a complete language in its own right. To express it metaphorically, BSL is a Sunday newspaper, whereas Makaton is a necessary supplement which adds to the newspaper as a whole.

Makaton does share some common signs with BSL, being based on it in the UK. There are, however, many differences, so the two should not be confused: BSL or Makaton are recognised by the user, whether with special needs or hearing impairments. A worthy example of this would be a notable performance by Geri Halliwell on Top of the Pops. She was signing 'I'll be your angel now'. Unfortunately (for her) this reads 'I'll be your toilet now' in Makaton. Perhaps not the best sign to share!