Key Word Sign Australia

Learn how to use Key Word Sign with training, resources and more

Key Word Sign uses manual signs and natural gesture to support communication.

For children and adults with communication difficulties, it’s a great way to encourage and support language development.

Key word signing uses a core vocabulary of words to communicate concepts and ideas. Each word (concept) is matched to an Auslan hand sign.

Auslan is the native language of the Australian Deaf community (Australian Sign Language), and we gratefully acknowledge the Deaf community for the use of Auslan signs.

How to get started using Key Word Sign

With workshops starting from beginner level, we can help you learn to use Key Word Sign to communicate with the person you support.

We also have a wide range of resources to help you get the most out of Key Word Sign.

Workshops and training

Key Word Sign workshops

Learn how to use Key Word Sign in a fun, interactive and affordable way. Attend a workshop in your state or territory run by accredited Key Word Sign presenters.

Key Word Sign presenter training

Key Word Sign presenters are licensed to run basic Key Word Sign workshops. Attend a 4 day training course, then deliver a basic workshop supervised by an experienced presenter.

Contact your regional representative for more information about workshops and training.

Buy Key Word Sign Resources online

The following resources are all available from the Scope shop.

Key Word Sign Frequently Asked Questions

No. Speech is the most effective and efficient way of communicating with others and we are all surrounded by people speaking. Therefore, no matter what type of alternative strategy we use with someone, they will continue to develop speech if that is possible for them.

We also know from research that using KWS or other forms of Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC) will enable a child or adult with communication difficulties to communicate more effectively with others.

No. Using Key Word Sign is just one way children and adults who have communication difficulties can communicate. It is also useful for most people who need help understanding language.

Key Word Sign may not meet all the communication needs of all people across their daily environment and routines. To meet these different communication needs, the child or adult may need to use a combination of strategies, such as using pictures, photos or objects. In most situations, sign and gesture can be used in combination with these other approaches.

Using Key Word Signs are a natural extension of using gestures. Signs are often very similar to the gestures we use every day when we talk. However, your child may look a little different because they are using more gestures than other people would normally.

People may look at a person combining speech and signs but often it is because they are interested or impressed.

AAC refers to all the ways we communicate without using speech. We all use forms of AAC every day. You use AAC when you use facial expressions or gestures instead of talking. You use AAC when you write a note and pass it to a friend or co-worker, send a text or an email. We may not realise how often we communicate without talking.

People with more severe speech or language difficulties may need AAC to help them communicate. Some may use it all the time. Others may say some words but use AAC for longer sentences or with people they don’t know well. AAC can help in school, at work, and when talking with friends and family. Key Word Sign is a form of AAC. Other forms are communication books or boards, or technology tools such as an app or computer program that will speak when a message is created with text or pictures.

You don’t need to be an expert in using signs or know a lot of signs before you can start!

You are already using a form of signing now with your use of natural gesture. It is important to select a few signs to start with that are important for the child or adult who you are using the signs with.

Think about their interests, what they want to communicate about and what activities they normally participate in – that will give you a good idea of the signs that would be helpful when you are starting.

It’s sometimes difficult to keep motivated to use signing when the child or adult you are trying to communicate with is not responding or learning to use the signs. Don’t give up!

It’s important to realise that sometimes it takes months of being exposed to the signs before we can expect someone to be able to use it.

One of the best things you can do is learn to sign with them!

Many adults with communication disabilities have learned to use KWS at school, but as adults are often supported by workers who don’t know or understand signs, so they use less and less signs themselves.

If you sign when you are talking with them, they will start to use more and more sign with you. You will understand more of what they are trying to say, and often be surprised by how much they can say!

No, each country has its own sign language!

In America they use signs from American Sign Language (ASL), in England they use British Sign Language (BSL) and of course, in Australia we use Australian Sign Language (Auslan).

Key Word Sign is used in many different countries, and the signs used are always from the host country’s Deaf sign language. There are sometimes similarities between signs from different countries, but also large differences. If you look up examples of signs on YouTube, it’s important to check which country the signs are from.

You can look up signs in several ways.

When you do a Key Word Sign workshop, we will give you the book “Getting Started with Key Word Sign” (Auslan edition) which is a useful starting place.

You can also buy Australian based Key Word Sign resources from our online store.

Check your state’s Facebook page or website or email your state contact.

Some states offer centralised workshops, or you can organise your own local workshop for home, school, kinder, crèche, work or day service.

Or send us an email and we’ll do our best to help.