How do I talk to a person who uses direct access?

Learn how with a communication board

pointing to communication boardIn general, there are three ways that a person may use (or ‘access’) a communication board to get their message across:

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

Using direct access to talk with a communication board

 Direct access is where the person has the motor ability to use their finger, fist or whole hand to choose a message to communicate on a communication board.

Here are some recommended steps that you can take to interact with a person who can directly access a communication board.

1. Introduce yourself

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

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 point to the word ‘yes’ on this board to say ‘yes’. Is that correct?”


 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 have speech that is difficult to understand. Sometimes I will point to messages using my hand to communicate and have a book that I use to get my message across”.


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?”


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.

Position the communication board so that it is directly in front of the person, so that the person can clearly see the whole board.

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.

DSC_0017 arrows

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.


7. Ask the person to indicate what they want to say using the communication board.


8. Clarify that you have understood the message

Clarify that you got the message correct, by reading out loud what that person has pointed to, saying “It looks like you’ve pointed to “(message)” – is that correct?” and look for a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ response.


9. Respond to the person’s message!

It’s important to recognise that when talking to a person who has a communication difficulty, 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 or 03 9843 2000.