Communication disability and communication access

On this page is information about communication disability, tips for successful communication, and video case studies that highlight the importance of communication access and how speech pathologists work with Australians every day to ensure they are communicating with confidence. Find out how to get involved with Speech Pathology Week in 2022.

In recent years there have been increasing efforts to raise awareness, and develop programs, resources, standards and guidelines to improve communication access for people with communication disability.

These efforts have effected changes in legislation in some countries to better uphold the human rights of people with communication disability, though legislation in this area in Australia remains limited with ‘access’ tending to focus on physical access, or general access to information and communication technologies.

Despite numerous activities to promote ‘communication access’, there remains lack of clarity and consistency regarding terminology. There is also inconsistency in the existing communication access standards and guidelines. Speech Pathology Australia is working to address this, and it is a founding member of the Communication Access Alliance.

1.2 million Australians#

The Australian Bureau of Statistics has established that 1.2 million Australians have communication disability.

Communication disability affects a person's ability to understand and be understood by others. Levels of limitation range from mild to profound and can be temporary or last a lifetime.

  • Children and older people make up the majority of people with communication disability.
  • Children are more likely to have profound/severe communication disability than older people.
  • People with communication disability are less likely to have a non-school qualification (42%) than people without communication disability (61%).
  • Thirty-eight percent of people with communication disability are participating in the labour force compared with 80% of people without communication disability.
  • One in 7 people with communication disability need formal assistance with communication.
  • Half of all people who need formal assistance with communication have an unmet need for this assistance.
  • Three in 5 people who have an unmet need for formal assistance with communication are children.

View either the Australian Bureau of Statistics fact sheet on communication disability in Australia and/or read the ABS profile of people with communication disability in Australia.

#Source: Australian Bureau of Statistics, Profile of people with communication disability in Australia,

Tips for successful communication*

  • Always treat the person with the communication disability with dignity and respectThis graphic shows an eye chart with the letters arranged to say 'you cannot always see communication disability'.
  • Be welcoming and friendly
  • Understand there are many ways to communicate
  • Ask the person with the disability what will help with communication
  • Avoid loud locations, find a quiet place
  • Listen carefully
  • When you don’t understand, let them know you are having difficulty understanding
  • If you think the person has not understood, repeat what you have said or say it a different way
  • Try asking the person yes or no questions if you are having difficulty understanding them
  • Ask the person to repeat or try another approach if you don’t understand
  • To make sure you are understood, check with the person that you have understood them correctly
  • If you ask a question, wait for the person to reply
  • Allow the person time to respond, so always be patient
  • Speak directly to the person and make eye contact. (Though be mindful that there are some people who may not want you to look at them, e.g. some people with autism spectrum disorder)
  • Speak normally. There is no need for you to raise your voice or slow your speech.

*Source: Adapted from SCOPE, Communication for All Booklet,

Video case studies

In the last few years, as part of Speech Pathology Week, Speech Pathology Australia has produced a range of video case studies to increase awareness of communication disability and role speech pathologist play in ensuring Australians communicate with confidence.

These case studies have involved interviews with speech pathologists and their clients, and highlight the challenges faced every day by Australians with communication disability.

The case studies also highlight the fact that not all communication is verbal and why communication is so important for every Australian.

Speech Pathology Week 2022

This graphic is a screen shot from the Speech Pathology Week 2022 video that this graphic is linked.Nicole and Rachel (and Guillain-Barré Syndrome) - Nicole worked with Rachel to overcome Guillain-Barré Syndrome.

Speech Pathology Week 2020 and 2021

Because of the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic it was not possible to record individual case study videos for Speech Pathology Week in 2020 and 2021

Speech Pathology Week 2019

This is a screen shot of the video that accompanies the Speech Pathology Australia that is linked to this graphic.Caitlyn and Kelly - Despite numerous setbacks that would silence many, Kirby Littley refuses to be silent.

This is a screen shot of the video that accompanies the Speech Pathology Australia that is linked to this graphic.Georgia and Julie - What happens when ‘communicating with confidence’ is your job and you start to lose your voice?

This is a screen shot of the video that accompanies the Speech Pathology Australia that is linked to this graphic.Emily, Alicia and Shaun - So much in life is about confidence. Communicating is no different. See it in action at Chancez-Cafe.

This is a screen shot of the video that accompanies the Speech Pathology Australia that is linked to this graphic.Nikki and PaulaRediscovering the correct words to be able communicate with confidence.

Speech Pathology Week 2018

This images is linked to a video of Nicki and Jarrod on YouTube where they discuss communication access for Speech Pathology Week 2018.Nicki and Jarrod Speech pathologist Nicki Jackson and Jarrod talk about what communication accessibility looks like in real life.

This images is linked to a video of a speech pathologist talking about assistive technology on YouTube for Speech Pathology Week 2018.Speech pathologists and assistive technology - Speech pathologists play an important role in helping Australians with communication disability access assistive technology.

This images is linked to a video of a Amanda and Stacey talking about what communication access what it means for Stacey's son Harvey for Speech Pathology Week 2018.Amanda, Stacey and Harvey - Speech pathologist Amanda Nugent and Stacey talk about what communication access means for Stacey's son Harvey.

This images is linked to a video of a Nadine and Heath as they communicate about how eye-gaze technology provides communication access.Nadine and Heath - Speech pathologist Nadine Davies and Heath explains how assistive technology is making communication accessibility a reality.

This images is linked to a video of a Carly and Imogen as they work to find the best assistive technology for Imogen.Carly and Imogen - Speech Pathologist Carly Hastie and Imogen are working in partnership to find the best communication technology for Imogen to use.

This photographs show three people talking during a video interview and is linked to the video itself..Louise, Marion and Brandon - Speech Pathologists Louise Hockey and Marion Van Nierop are work colleagues of Brandon Tomlin, who uses a range of means to communicate with his workmates.