Lack of community understanding leaves Australians with communication disability frustrated and lonely

A research project pioneered by Scope

Australians feel too self-conscious and anxious to talk to people that use alternate methods of communication, like spelling boards or sign and gesture, leaving those with a disability feeling frustrated, worried and lonely, new research from disability support charity Scope has revealed.

With one in seven Australians experiencing communication disability in their lifetime, Scope conducted over 100 in-depth interviews with people with a disability, and commissioned a survey of 1,000 Australians to start a conversation about one of the most common, yet least understood social challenges ahead of International Day of People with Disability (3 December 2017).

Scope CEO Dr Jennifer Fitzgerald said people who cannot rely on speech to communicate depend on a range of tools, such as electronic speech devices, spelling boards, word boards or picture boards.

“Imagine not being able to rely on speech to communicate with a taxi driver, a waiter, a police officer or even your neighbour. Well, for a quarter of a million Australians, it’s a daily reality,” Fitzgerald said.

“Our research shows social isolation and emotional vulnerability are all too common for the 245,000 Australians living with a communication disability.”

Highlighting the stark gap in understanding, four in five Australians (79.3%) believe it’s best to direct their conversation to a support person. Yet Scope surveys of people with a disability found talking to a support person instead of the individual made them feel frustrated (46%), worried (41%), and lonely (30%). In contrast, when spoken to directly, respondents reported feeling happy (78%), safe (63%) and relaxed (66%).

The research shows Australians are reluctant to converse with people with a disability, with two in five worried they will offend the person (39.6%), or just don’t know how to (39.4%). One in four (26.9%) are concerned the person will feel frustrated if they don’t understand them.

“Communication is such a common challenge for people living with a disability, so it’s unfortunate that a lack of education has left Australians feeling too anxious to have a respectful conversation,” Fitzgerald said.

“Our research found Australians are unaware of the range of communication tools that enable people with a disability to express themselves, with four out of five saying they have never seen a spelling board (82.4%) or a digital aid that speaks words (81%).

“Scope is committed to finding pathways and solutions to enable and facilitate inclusion and access, and that’s why we are calling on businesses and individuals to get educated on the different ways you can communicate – to help make Australia more accessible and inclusive.”

Scope is calling on organisations to undertake disability awareness education as well as get accredited in communication accessibility to ensure their businesses are ready welcome people with a communication disability.

About the research

  • Australian public research conducted via online survey method, comprising of >1,000 Australian adults
  • Scope conducted >100 in-depth, face to face interviews with people with communication disability who use Scope’s services

Download the research summary here.

About Communication Access

In 2011, Scope developed the Communication Access symbol, which recognises organisations that are:

  1. Able to communicate successfully with people with communication difficulties
  2. Whose staff have participated in disability awareness programs and trained on how to communicate with all their customers or stakeholders with dignity and respect
  3. Have incorporated communication tools and aids to support people to get their message across.

Over 200 leading Victorian organisations have been accredited with the Communication Access symbol to date, and thanks to an NDIS grant, Scope can now roll-out Communication Access to New South Wales and South Australia.

About communication disability

A person with a communication disability may have difficulties having a conversation with a member of the public because they:

  • Use very few spoken words or have no speech at all
  • Have speech that is unclear and difficult to understand
  • May speak in single words or parts of sentences
  • Have a hearing difficulty
  • May not be able to read something you write down
  • May not be able to write their message down instead of using speech
  • Don’t seem to understand what you are saying to them

This International Day of People with Disability, lets aim at increasing public awareness about understanding and accepting 245,000 Australians who have a communication disability.

Contact Scope to know more.