A new way of making Sense to the world

A man pushes a young man in a wheelchair, both laughing

Sense is not alone in needing to raise awareness and understanding of who we are, so that we can reach more people. The question is how do you attract people’s attention in today’s incredibly noisy world?

People are bombarded with zillions of messages every day. To cope, the human brain cleverly filters out anything that isn’t different or doesn’t immediately connect in some way.

The challenge for a charity like Sense is that most people don’t have an immediate connection with us. It means that when we try to tell people about Sense, our message doesn’t get through the filter. It simply isn’t noticed.

We have to find a way of expressing Sense to the world that stands out from the crowd – and, most importantly, relates to common human experience. We need to bring to life our amazing, awe-inspiring work of Sense for those who have not yet had the pleasure of meeting any of us!

We need to start with why Sense exists

As author Simon Sinek explains in his book titled ‘Start with why’, people are inspired to take action because of why you do what you do as an organisation, not what you do or how you do it. And you need to explain why you exist in a way that people can understand and relate to easily.

So, we went back to why Sense first began. The journey started more than 60 years ago with a conversation between mums. Mums who discovered they had a lot in common. They had contracted rubella while pregnant and, as a result, gave birth to babies who were deafblind. They each had found little understanding or support to help their children to communicate. They felt isolated – and desperately worried that their children would be isolated and unable to connect with others and the world around.

Black and white vintage image of a woman and young boy, seated and holding hands

Feeling connected is a basic human need. Feeling isolated is a common human experience. It’s something that people do understand.  And, when you think about it, it does explain why Sense exists – because no one should be isolated, left out or unable to fulfil their potential. Surely we do what we do, because we believe everyone deserves the right to be connected and part of society.

We need to explain who Sense supports in a new way

When first introducing Sense to new people, we need to sum up who we support in a few words, just like charities do that exist for people with, say, cancer, or heart disease or dementia.

Sense began by supporting and campaigning for the rights of people who are deafblind. Over the years, though, it became apparent that our expertise, which stems from this specialism in deafblindness, would benefit many more people. Today we support a broad range of people with different needs.

We’ve tried listing some of the most relevant, broad labels that relate to the people we support – deafblind, sensory impairments, complex needs. The trouble is, it isn’t working.

An older woman looking towards you and smiling

People get confused. Do I have to have a sensory impairment to be supported by Sense? How complex do my conditions need to be for Sense to be relevant to me?

The truth is that there is no perfect way of summing up the people we support when introducing Sense for the first time. Everyone is different. We know listing the labels doesn’t work. More worryingly, it contradicts the way we work – we should always start with the person and their particular needs.

We looked at the challenge from another perspective. The more you discover about who Sense is, the more you realise that it is communication that lies at the heart of what we do.  We are here for every person who faces tough communication barriers in a world that relies on being able to see and hear well to be connected. We strive together to unlock barriers to communication, so everyone can enjoy meaningful lives – be it through speech or sign, touch or movement, gesture or sound, art or dance.

Two people performing a yoga move with arms in the air

Complex needs is an expression used when a person has two or more needs and requires high levels of support with aspects of daily life. This may be because of a disability or sight or hearing impairment – or a combination of these.

So, after a lot of thought, reflection, discussion, debate and consultation, we are introducing a new umbrella term, ‘complex communication needs’, as the best way of introducing who Sense supports in just a few words. It puts the focus on Sense’s expertise in communication and the person’s needs first.

Our aim, over time, is for ‘complex communication needs’ to become a familiar term to the world, closely associated with Sense.

We will make it clear that Sense continues to support people who are deafblind – and that our expertise, which stems from this specialism in deafblindness, enables us to support a wider range of people.

We will bring the term to life by sharing stories that show the life-changing impact that Sense has on individual lives. When referring to specific people, we will use the description most appropriate to the individual. This may be their specific condition, e.g. Usher syndrome, or it may be their preferred way of communicating, e.g. hand-on-hand signing.

We need to inspire people to join us in  ‘Connecting differently’

There is nothing like a simple, yet powerful, idea to capture people’s hearts and imaginations.

Image shows an orange circle on purple, with the words "Connecting differently"

We went in search of an idea that had the potential to inspire everyone. Reflecting on the many different ways to empower people to communicate, the idea of ‘Connecting differently’ emerged to capture the essence of Sense’s view on life.

Time and again Sense shows that it is possible for a person, with the right support, to make sense of their world and the world around them, no matter how complex their communication needs. Though we all connect differently, we are all connected.

From now on, we will use the idea of ‘Connecting differently’ to underpin and shape everything we do. We will use it to challenge ourselves – and the world – to connect differently every day, so that everyone, no matter how complex their communication needs, can be connected and part of society.

‘Connecting differently’ through our communications

‘Connecting differently’ challenges the way information is shared. We have reviewed our accessible communication guidelines and are setting new, higher standards to which we will work. Though it may take time to change the way we produce things, we are determined to demonstrate the idea of ‘Connecting differently’ through our communications – and to encourage others to do the same.

A more textured, sensory feel to the way we look

We have added some new visual elements to the design we use so that it feels more textured and sensory, and expresses a sense of energy and movement. These elements, which are in addition to our existing logo, strapline and orange/purple colour combination, will help us to stand out more from the crowd and be recognised more easily.

Image shows the Sense website homepage, showing a young boy in Christmas hat and a banner, which reads "Help a child like Luca this Christmas"

A new, mobile-responsive website

A new website has been launched to reflect our new way of making Sense to the world. It’s designed to make it easier to find what you’re looking for and to take action, be that to support Sense in some way or to get support.

Making sense of Sense to the world

This has been an important journey for us as charity.  Whilst the changes will take time to roll out, we are excited about the opportunities they create for building awareness and understanding of Sense. We are very grateful to the teams at Heavenly and Shout, who have worked so hard and given so much of their time, to help us get to this point.

We are determined to use this new way of making sense of Sense to connect with more people so that, together, we can continue working towards a world where no one with complex communication needs is isolated, left out or unable to fulfil their potential.

Do explore our new website.

If you have any comments or questions on the changes we are making, do get in touch, we’d love to hear from you.


Find out more about Sense and the people we support.

Richard Kramer

Author: Richard Kramer

Deputy CEO of Sense

9 thoughts on “A new way of making Sense to the world”

  1. I find the term “complex communication needs” extremely unhelpful and negative. It reinforces the disablist view that meeting those needs is difficult. Surely an organisation like Sense should be challenging such disablist ideas and showing that communication isn’t hard. I can only presume these changes are designed to keep disabled people in our place and get funders to give Sense more money for helping the pathetic, helpless, difficult people. Heaven forbid that deafblind people might ever be seen as capable of doing things, and mainstream society able to interact with us, without help from Sense.

    1. Thanks Zoe. We appreciate the feedback.

      We all need to feel connected. For many, though, being understood and making connections doesn’t come easily. That’s the experience shared by many of the individuals and families Sense works with. We agree that we need to challenge the status quo. We want to challenge everyone, including ourselves, to work on communication, so that everyone can be connected and part of society. It’s the world we’re working towards.
      In the meantime, we have to be able to answer the question asked by those new to Sense, ‘Who do you support?’. We are acutely aware there’s no perfect answer, everyone we work with is different and needs support in different ways. Having explored many different options, ‘complex communication needs’ emerged as the most appropriate summary.

      You’ll find a more detailed explanation of our umbrella term, complex communication needs at https://www.sense.org.uk/get-support/information-and-advice/conditions/

  2. A very positive blog and well written. We all need communication to survive and it is complex with all our senses involved. For some of us we just don’t think about it, it just happens and we can adapt our communication to be inclusive in whatever way a person needs it to be. So yes, I agree with the addition of ‘complex communication needs.’ What better organisation than Sense to raise awareness of this and use it to benefit everyone, to share their knowledge and expertise in this field.

  3. So, Sense have now departed ENTIRELY from the assurance of supporting Deafblind people. I’m assuming that the ‘connecting sight, sound and life’ was a halfway point to ease us in gently before the full departure? Why on earth don’t you just merge with Scope as this is clearly what Sense are now aiming for. It’s sad times when charities are no longer allowed to be ‘for’ a particular group of people, although I’m not aware of many other charities who share your anxieties…Generic aims are contrary to what charities are for, surely? You say it was hard to explain who Sense supported before the change… I have a deafblind son and not one person I’ve met hasn’t understood what sensory loss means once explained!

    I’m going to cling on to our amazing Sense support worker for dear life as I now know that when my son is a lot older, the precious knowledge and experience of deafblindness and CHARGE syndrome within the charity will disappear with the last remnants of what Sense was. What a shame that the only charity set up to support people with such a rare and often misunderstood disability is now throwing them in a pool of mediocrity. Your attempts at inclusion is simply leading to an exclusion of the people you were set up to support…

    1. Please be reassured that Sense’s support for people who are deafblind will always be at the heart of what we do – and we are certainly not becoming a charity for all disabled people. We want to stress that it’s not about changing what we do; it’s about expressing it in a different way.

      The support of a wider range of people with different combinations of need isn’t a new development; it’s something Sense has been doing for many years. We’ve been aware for some time that people get confused about who Sense does and doesn’t support, especially those looking for services. As mentioned in the blog, we’ve tried different ways of being clear about who we support and the difference Sense can make, none of which have worked, so we need to take a new approach.

      If you haven’t already, do take a look at the section on our website that explains in more detail our definition of complex communication needs and the various conditions which are relevant to Sense’s work, including deafblindness and conditions such as Usher syndrome and CHARGE syndrome: https://www.sense.org.uk/get-support/information-and-advice/conditions/ We hope this is helpful and you’re reassured about Sense’s continued support of children, young people and adults who are deafblind.

  4. I’m quite sad to read all this. I started supporting Sense to help parents and children who had just been told their baby/child was deaf blind I did not really want to give my money to all your other causes.

    1. We’d like to reassure you that we will always support and campaign for children and adults who are deafblind. Our specialism in communication only means that we are now able to support a wider breadth of people.

      Whilst some of our work is funded by local authorities, our Sense Specialist Service for Children relies almost entirely on voluntary income. In other words, it’s the generous support of individuals like you that make it possible for us to provide the essential support needed for a child to discover their way of connecting and communicating with their parents, and the world around them, as early as possible. The majority of children we support in this way are deafblind or multi-sensory impaired and this will continue to be the case, both now and in the future.

      Many of the adults using Sense services today were supported by Sense as children; it’s a real joy to watch how, with the right support, they’ve grown in confidence, developed skills and are now enjoying full and meaningful lives.

      Thank you for the part you’ve played in helping this to happen. In spite of the turbulent world we live in, with financial pressures being felt by so many, in so many areas, we are determined to continue to be there for children and parents at every stage of their lives. You may be interested in looking at further information about our Sense Specialist Service for Children, which continues to rely on the generosity of our supporters, at https://www.sense.org.uk/get-support/information-and-advice/support-for-children/

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