There are three key ways that a person may use (or ‘access’) a communication board to get their message across:arm pointing to board

  1. ­­Directly pointing with their finger or hand.
  2. Using their eyes to point by looking.
  3. Using a method called partner assisted scanning.

The third option, ‘partner assisted scanning’, is where a person’s communication partner (i.e. the person supporting them) will read out each message on the communication board in a specific way. The person being supported to communicate will indicate when their communication partner understands the message they want to say.

Some people will have a very specific way that they use partner assisted scanning to communicate. However, these tips below give you some strategies that you can use to interact with a person who uses this access method.

1. Introduce yourself

Just like you would to anyone else! A simple “Hey! My name is…” works a lot of the time.

female waving to other female

Introduce yourself

2. Ask the person how they say ‘yes’ and ‘no’

We know that many people will nod their head for ‘yes’ and often shake their head for ‘no’. Some people, however, will say ‘yes’ and ‘no’ differently. It is important that you understand right from the start how a person indicates ‘yes’ and ‘no’. Look for subtle physical or visual cues they might give you if it is not obvious.

Try saying to the person:

“I really want to understand how you communicate. Can you show me how you say ‘yes’ / ’no’?”

Wait for the person to show you. You can then clarify by repeating back to them what you saw to make sure you got it right. For example:

“I saw you look up for ‘yes’. Is that correct?”

Nancy looks up for ‘yes’ and moves her head to the right for ‘no’

Nancy looks up for ‘yes’ and moves her head to the right for ‘no’

3. Ask the person how they like to communicate 

Sometimes people with communication difficulties will carry an introduction card with them. This is a card which clearly and simply outlines how that person likes to talk, and what you can do to help make it a successful interaction. It may also state what that person uses to communicate if they have little or no speech. For example, “I use partner assisted scanning to communicate and have a book that I use to get my message across”.

person holding an introduction card which indicates how they communicate

Some people may carry an introduction card which indicates how they communicate

4. If you or the person is having difficulty getting their message across or understanding what is being said, offer to use their communication system or, if you have one, a communication board.

Try saying: “I’m not sure what you’re saying. Can we use your book / this communication board?”

 female shows other female communication board

Offer to use a communication board and look for a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ response

5. Ask the person if they would like you to read out all of the messages on the communication board, and look for their ‘yes’ or ‘no’ response.

Some people may have difficulties reading, so it may help if you read out each message on the communication board.

Hold the communication board up in front of you, so that the person can clearly see the whole board.

female pointing to communication board

Some people may need you to read out each message first, before they can indicate what they want to say

Starting at the top left hand corner, read each message out loud down the first column. Generally, communication boards will be designed so that the messages flow logically as you read down each column. Next, read all messages in the second, third, fourth etc. columns until you’ve read every message on the board.

Remember to point to each picture on the board, so that the person knows where each message is on the board

6. Once you’ve read out each message, say to the person: “Is what you want to say on this board?” and look for a yes or no response.

Femaile asking if what they want to say is on the board

Ask if what they want to say is on the board

 7. Next, say “I’m going to read the messages in the first column only. After, I want you to tell me if your message is one of those messages”.

communication board with vertical arrow pointing down in the first column

Point and read out each message in the first column ONLY.

8. Say “Is your message in the first column?”

Carefully watch for the person’s ‘yes’ or ‘no’ response.

If the person says ‘yes’

Say “You said ‘yes’, your message was one of those messages. I am going to read each one again, and I want you to tell me ‘yes’ or ‘no’”

This time, read each message ONE AT A TIME. Pause after each message and wait for the person to give you a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ response.

Read through the same column again, but this time – pause after each message and ask the person for a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ response

Read through the same column again, but this time – pause after each message and ask the person for a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ response

When that person indicates ‘yes’ – that is the message they wanted to say! Respond to the person’s message!

If the person says ‘no’

Point and read out each message in the SECOND column only.

communication board with vertical arrow pointing down in the first column

If the person’s message wasn’t in the first column – try the second column and repeat from step 8 but ask if their message is in the second column

See start of point 8 for further instructions.

It’s important to recognise that when talking to a person who uses partner assisted scanning, it may take a bit longer to communicate – and that’s ok! Sometimes people can feel like they’re taking too long or asking unnecessary questions, when really, you’re giving that person respect and allowing them their right to communicate – which is what communication access is all about!

If you’d like more information on how to use communication boards, or find out more about how your business can have customised communication boards developed or be accredited with the Communication Access Symbol, contact Scope’s Communication and Inclusion Resource Centre at circ@scopeaust.org.au or 03 9843 2000.