Better communication


Communication is an important right. Sometimes people with disabilities have the need for supports due to complex communication needs.

Disability Services has a ‘Complex Communication Needs’ Policy and procedure which provides guidance on the delivery of evidence based Alternative and Augmentative Communication (AAC) supports. The policy and procedure aligns with Speech Pathology Australia’s clinical guideline for Alternative and Augmentative Communication (2012).

The principles of the policy and procedure include:

  • communication is a basic human right
  • people with disability and complex communication needs have the right to:
    • express their feelings, needs and wants in a way that others can understand and respond to
    • understand others’ communications
      • supported to develop an effective, efficient and reliable means of independent communication
  • access to an effective means of communication provides a safeguard for people with disability and complex communication needs
  • the department will support people with a disability and complex communication needs through a range of communication methods.

This site provides you with some information and resources for better communication for people with disabilities.

Communicating with people with disabilities

We communicate with people many times every day, either face to face, on the phone or in writing. When communicating with someone with disability, it is important to remember to treat each person as an individual. Also, treat people with respect and consideration and in the way that you would want to be treated.

Some general tips for successful communication:

  • use a normal tone of voice—do not raise your voice unless asked to
  • be polite and patient—do not rush the conversation
  • speak directly to the person rather than the person with them
  • ask the person what will help with communication—there are different ways to communicate
  • don't pretend to understand—let the person know you are having difficulty; try asking yes or no questions
  • be flexible—reword rather than repeat anything that is not understood
  • only refer to the person's disability if necessary or relevant
  • offer assistance if it appears necessary, but respect the person's wishes if they don't accept your offer
  • avoid saying anything that implies the person with disability is superhuman, courageous or special
  • relax—everyone makes mistakes; apologise if you believe you have embarrassed someone.

Communicating with someone who has a guide, hearing or assistance dog

When you meet a person with a guide, hearing or assistance dog, it’s important to remember that the dog is working. Keep in mind that even though it may appear that the team is not performing a task at that moment, the dog is still on call and must give their full attention to the person they are accompanying. Here are a few tips:

  • speak to the person first
  • keep in mind that the dog has a very important job to do
  • know that the dog loves to work and is well treated
  • remember that the dog is highly trained
  • teach others that the dog is working
  • be aware that guide, hearing and assistance dogs are allowed in public places and on public passenger vehicles
  • don’t talk to, call, or make sounds at the dog
  • don’t touch the dog without asking—and receiving—permission
  • don’t be offended if asked not to pat the dog
  • don’t feed the dog
  • don’t give commands to the dog—this is the owner’s job
  • don’t ask personal questions about the person’s disability or intrude on their privacy
  • don’t be offended if the person declines to chat about the dog.

A way with words

A way with words provides guidelines for the portrayal of people with disability with the aim of promoting inclusiveness and the accurate and fair portrayal of people with disability. Topics covered include appropriate language, interviewing a person with disability, providing public information to people with disability and general guidelines on communicating with a person with disability.

Complex communication needs

The Complex Communication Needs booklet shares information about what the term ‘complex communication needs’ means, the perspectives of some people with complex communication needs, and some general strategies that can be used on a daily basis.

If you are interested in learning more about the Complex Communication Needs policy and procedure please email: The Centre of Excellence for Clinical Innovation and Behaviour Support at

You can also learn more about Speech Pathology Australia’s clinical guideline for Alternative and Augmentative Communication.

Communication boards

Communication boards are a visual way of representing speech. They let people with disability express their needs, and communicate, using pictures.

A range of communication boards are available for download. Each board is customised for a particular use, such as: