How do I talk to a person who uses eye gaze?

Learn how with a communication board

DSC_0972In 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.This blog will take you through how people may use their eyes to communicate using a communication board, and how you can help them get their message across.

Using eye gaze to talk with a communication board

Some people may choose to use their eyes to look at a cell (or ‘box’) on a communication board, and will rely on you to see where they are looking to determine what that person is talking about.

Some people will have a very specific way that they use eye gaze to communicate, however these tips below give you some strategies that you can use to interact with a person who uses eye gaze.

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

    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?”

  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 eye-gaze to communicate and have a book that I use to get my message across”.

    Introduction card
    Ask the person if they have an introduction card
  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?

    Two people using a communication board
    If you don’t understand what the person is saying, offer to use their communication system, or a communication board (pictured)
  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.
    woman holding communication board
    Scan through each option on the board by reading out each column from top to bottom

    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.

    Communication board with arrows pointing down
    Remember to point out where the ‘yes’ and ‘no’ is on the board as well. This may be helpful for the person.

    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. Next, say “I want you to look around the board and find your message. When you’ve found your message, look up at my eyes to let me know you are ready”.
    Watch the person’s eyes as they look around the board for their message. Wait and watch their eyes until they look up at you to let you know they’re ready.
  8. Say “You’ve looked at my eyes to let me know you’re ready. Now, look at the message you want to say.”
    Carefully watch where the person looks. Point to the picture that you think the person is looking at.
  9. Say “I think you are looking at “[message]” Is this right?”Look for a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ response.
  10. Respond to the person’s message!
Two women communicating using a communicaiton board
Respond to the person’s message

It’s important to recognise that when talking to a person who uses eye gaze, 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.