Penn named Augmentative and Alternative Communication Provider of the Year

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Contributed by the Alabama Department of Rehabilitation Services

Alabama Department of Rehabilitation Services (ADRS) Speech Language Pathologist Dianna Havard Penn was recently named the Speech and Hearing Association of Alabama’s Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC) Provider of the Year for 2021.

Children’s Rehabilitation Service (CRS), a program of ADRS, has been fortunate to have Dianna as a SLP since April 2017. Dianna’s district includes both the CRS Montgomery and Opelika offices as well as 14 other surrounding counties. She coordinates the Augmentative Communication Technology (ACT) clinics for these offices and provides training for families, SLPs and teachers inside her district as well as through local and statewide trainings.

Dianna also serves as an interdisciplinary team member in CRS feeding clinics, cleft palate clinics and various other specialty clinics. During the COVID-19 shutdown, she continued to work daily from home to schedule ACD deliveries and provide training for the families via remote means so that their communication would not be placed on hold.

Dianna was quick to share the credit for her award. “I’m really shocked and surprised,” she said. “I work with such great speech therapists. I wasn’t expecting it at all. We work so well together even though we are all in different offices. I feel like any of them could have been more worthy, but this is very flattering.”

The award came as no surprise to her coworkers. Her nomination letter stated, “One would be hard pressed to find a humbler and more thoughtful SLP who is constantly placing others’ needs before her own. She is always searching for new ways to provide assistance to communicators, their families and SLPs. She is innovative and always strives to find more ways to serve her clients and community. It is an honor and a joy to work with her.”

Dianna’s passion for helping school system SLPs and school staff is rooted in her vast experience within the school system. Prior to working with CRS, she served students in the Autauga County, Pell City and Huntsville City public school systems, as well as Morgan County and Madison City public schools and Muscogee County public schools in Columbus, Georgia.

In her first job as a SLP, she collaborated with a team of professionals to establish the first autism program for the Muscogee County School District. This initially involved only one classroom but rapidly expanded into a comprehensive program, enabling the system to better meet the needs of students on the autism spectrum.

Dianna has also worked with Restore Therapy for more than 10 years. She has often provided augmentative communication evaluations for residents in skilled nursing facilities, travelling across the state to provide evaluations and training to staff, as well as completing the lengthy paperwork to obtain funding for these communication devices.

From September 2003 to June 2006, she served as a missionary SLP with Mission to the World in Sofia, Bulgaria as the SLP consultant for Saint Sofia Cerebral Palsy Children’s Hospital. She organized and led short-term medical projects; opened and operated a resource center for parents, therapists and teachers of children with disabilities; provided ongoing trainings in the areas of assistive technology for professionals and families.

She established a special needs resource center, Community Based Resource Center for Children with Disabilities, in the capital of Bulgaria, where parents, teachers and therapists received training on evidence-based practices and current assessment and treatment strategies.

Along with her church, Riverside Associated Reform Presbyterian Church, located in Prattville, she assisted in the development of a special needs ministry called Wonderfully Made. Wonderfully Made is a ministry to children with special-abilities and their families and is committed to providing community outreach and respite events throughout the year. Throughout the year, Wonderfully Made events are directed toward educating their own congregation about the varying abilities of the human race and individual strengths which also serves to build a sense of community in the River Region.

In 2016, Dianna provided a hands-on training, Wonderfully Made: Equipping the Church for Special Needs Ministry, for the members of Riverside Presbyterian Church. Participants engaged in activities that demonstrated the physical limitations of disabilities from a first-hand perspective and learned how to provide adaptations that would enable individuals to function more independently within community based activities.

In 2018, Dianna and Riverside Presbyterian Church were nominated for and received the Montgomery Area Committee on Employment of People with Disabilities “Partnership of the Year Award” for their Wonderfully Made outreach program. While COVID-19 has limited their 2020 outreach, they still found a way to hold a drive-through Back-to-School Bash in September to provide multiple activities while maintaining safety and social distancing protocol.

Dianna was an ASHA ACE Recipient in 2014 and 2017. Providing assistance and knowledge through presentations to SLPs, families, school staff and community members regarding communication is her priority.

About the Alabama Department of Rehabilitation Services

Celebrating 25 years of helping Alabamians with disabilities achieve their maximum potential, the Alabama Department of Rehabilitation Services is a state agency that promotes the healthy development of children from birth and the independence of adults through education, vocational training and assistive technologies. Find out more at www.rehab.alabama.gov.

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