Communication is an interactive, two-way process that includes both understanding and being understood. Communication involves a range of communication methods in face-to-face interactions, over the telephone, online and via reading and writing.

Communication Methods

Communication methods for people who have speech and language disabilities may include unclear speech, vocalization, mouthing, body positioning, facial expressions, eye gaze, gestures, mime, sign language, adapted signs, writing, drawing, typing, selecting or pointing to pictures, photographs, symbols, written words and letters of the alphabet. People who are Deaf, deafened or hard of hearing may use speechreading, lipreading, sign language and captioning in real time.

Effective Communication

Effective communication is a two-way process (expressive and receptive) in which messages are negotiated until both parties correctly understand the information.

Communication Access

Communication access refers to any accommodations and supports that a person may need for effective two-way communication in face-to-face interactions, communicating over the telephone, at meetings and case conferences, when reading and understanding written information, using websites and social media, completing forms and signing documents.

Communication Barrier

Any obstacle that prevents the effective exchange of ideas, thoughts, and questions in face-to-face, group or telephone interactions, and via reading and writing. Barriers include disrespectful attitudes, information that is presented in ways that the person cannot understand what is being said and/or written, and/or not having effective communication methods, aids, supports, time or opportunity to communicate their messages.

Communication Accommodations

Items that enable people who have communication disabilities to understand and communicate effectively. Examples include picture/photo/text cards/ video explanations/ symbol or letter boards, communication devices, accessible call bells, voice amplifiers, hearing aids, glasses and visual aids, plain language materials, easy reading, and alternate-format documents. Some communication accommodations are personalized; others are generic to a setting (e.g., accessible call bell in a hospital, emergency picture or alphabet board in an ambulance).

Communication Support

Communication support are things that people can do that facilitate communication with a person who has a disability that affects their communication. Examples of communication support include providing information in ways the person can hear and understand and ensuring the person has the means, opportunity and time to communicate their messages.

Communication Assistance

Communication assistance is provided a person, authorized by the individual to assist with communication. A communication assistant can be a family member, friend or support worker. A communication assistant conveys messages generated or directed by the individual, and may assist with comprehension, reading and writing if required.

People who have disabilities that affect communication

People who have disabilities that affect communication live in every community and cross all ages, ancestry, colour, race, ethnic origin, linguistic, intellectual abilities, creed/spirituality, gender identity, sexual orientation, financial, family, marital status and cultural communities. In addition, they may or may not have additional (intersecting) disabilities such as physical, intellectual, sensory, learning ability and mental health issues.

Speech, Language, Communication and Cognitive Disabilities

Refers to a range of disabilities that can impact one or more areas of a person’s ability to speak, hear, read, write, and/or understand what is being said. Disabilities that impact on communication include cerebral palsy, intellectual disability, autism spectrum disorder, multiple sclerosis, Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS or Lou Gehrig’s Disease), aphasia after a stroke, dementia, acquired brain injury, head and neck cancer, Parkinson’s disease and other disabilities.

Speech Disability

Speech refers to the sounds we use to make words. People who have disabilities that affect their speech may have unclear speech or no speech.

Language Disability

Language refers to how we understand what is said, abstract concepts and information and/or express thoughts using appropriate words and grammar to convey intended meaning. A language disability is not always indicative of a cognitive disability.

Communication Disability

Communication is how we interact with others, take turns in a conversation, use eye contact and understand another person’s perspective. People who have disabilities in communication may have challenges interacting socially with other people.

Cognitive Disability

A cognitive or intellectual disability, either from birth or later in life, can affect areas such as attention, memory, learning, problem-solving, reasoning and planning that impact on a person’s listening, understanding, speaking, reading, writing, social communication and decision making.

Communication Aids

Communication aids are items that people who have with speech and language disabilities may use for communication. Examples include: pen, paper, letter board, picture board, speech generating device, artificial larynx, hearing aids, switches to operate call bells or devices, eye gaze technology, adapted call bells, pain scales, pictures that support comprehension; amplifier, and “In case of emergency cards”, etc. Communication aids can be generic or commercial for some situations (e.g., emergency room, ambulance, bedside, ICU), or custom made for an individual to reflect their specific communication needs. Most people obtain communication aids through speech and language pathology or augmentative and alternative communication services.

Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC)

AAC is a set of tools and strategies that an individual uses to communicate, such as speech, a shared glance, text, gestures, facial expressions, touch, sign language, symbols, pictures, speech-generating devices, etc. In Canada, there are specialized AAC clinics.  Connect with ISAAC Canada for more information.

Preferred Communication Method

Refers to the person’s preference in using their communication methods in a specific situation. For example, in some situations, a person may prefer to use a letter board or answer yes and no questions rather than using their speech generating communication device.

Alternative Format Documents

Written information provided as an alternative to standard print, or handwritten information. Examples include large print, braille or electronic.

Accessible Text, Layout and Design

Refers to digital and print materials that follow best practice guidelines for font, alignment, color contrast, layout and use of graphics.

Plain Language / Easy Read Documents

Refers to writing that is clear, concise, well organized, and follows other best practices appropriate to the subject or field and intended audience.

Accessible Website

Accessible websites comply with latest web accessibility guidelines, such as WCAG 2.0

Communication Assistant

A communication assistant is a person who assists an individual with communication. A communication assistant can be a family member, a support worker or someone else who is familiar with how the individual communicates. A communication assistant must be  approved by the individual who requires support. A communication assistant conveys messages generated or directed by the individual, and may assist with comprehension, reading and writing if required. An authorized communication assistant is not necessarily a substitute decision maker and does not typically have Power of Attorney.

Proxy Communicator or Advocate

A person who knows the individual well and who says what they think the person might communicate if they could, or what they think is in the best interest of the person.

Speech-Language Pathologist

A regulated healthcare professional who conducts communication assessments, provides communication intervention services and recommends communication methods, aids, accommodations, and supports. A Speech-Language Pathologist may be required to provide appropriate accessibility communication accommodation and supports for people who have no way to communicate; participate in capacity assessments for patients with complex communication disabilities and assist in critical decision-making contexts such as medical assistance in dying.

Communication Intermediary

A Speech-Language Pathologist with additional training from CDAC to assist victims, witnesses and accused people who have speech and language disabilities to understand questions and to communicate answers effectively when communicating with police, legal or justice professionals.