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Communication Access

For communication partners

​Communication partners use Communication Access strategies to make healthcare better for people who have speech, language, and hearing difficulties. They help people understand and be understood using different types of communication.

6 Communication Access strategies

Here are 6 Communication Access strategies to try if someone is having trouble speaking, hearing, or understanding what you're saying.

1.    Assume competence.

  • Trust that they person can make decisions.
  • Speak directly to the person.
  • Offer help if they need it.

2.    Take time.

  • Be patient and speak slowly.
  • Use long pauses.

3.    Find out how they best communicate.

  • Consider using gestures, pictures, or written notes.
  • Ask the person if they communicate in other ways.

4.    Watch and listen.

  • Check that the person has their hearing aids and glasses.
  • Notice the lighting in the space and try to limit background noise.
  • Watch for signs of understanding, such as a smile or hand signal.

5.    Try other ways.

  • Ask questions with clear choices.
  • Get creative. You can draw a picture, write important words, or use gestures.
  • Be patient and keep trying.

6.    Check understanding.

  • Summarize what you talked about and make sure you got it right.
  • Ask the person if they have anything else to say.

Communication signals

When a person communicates in ways other than speaking, it can be a new experience for the communication partner. A person can communicate in many ways. Remember that when a person has a communication difficulty, their facial expressions may not match what they are trying to say.

Watch the person's body for signals such as the ones below to check that you are understanding each other:

  • Eyes: Looking at something or someone, looking at their answer choice, rolling their eyes, closing their eyes, widening their eyes.
  • Facial expressions: Smiling, frowning, crying, or looking frightened, worried, or angry.
  • Gestures: Reaching for things or people, pushing things away, guiding your hand to what they want, hitting, stomping, repeated tapping or banging.
  • Head: Nodding, putting their head down, turning away, turning towards sounds, or covering ears from sounds.
  • Movement: Trying to leave, moving towards someone or something, refusing to leave, pacing.
  • Posture: Slumping over, tensing up, rocking, curling up, becoming still.
  • Signs: Signing, waving, giving a thumbs up or thumbs down, pointing, shrugging.
  • Sounds: Crying or yelling, repeating sounds, laughing, sighing, using word-like sounds.

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