Specific communication needs

Community and disability service workers work with a diverse range of clients who, because of their disability or personal, emotional and cultural situation, may require workers to develop and use specialist communication skills.

You must be able to adapt your communication style to meet the needs of this client group in a fair, non-judgemental and effective manner.

Areas of specific need you should consider when communicating with others include:

  • Disability (including but not limited to intellectual impairment, physical impairment, psychiatric disability, hearing or vision impairment, learning difficulties, and attention deficits).
  • Literacy (e.g. false assumptions about level of intelligence and understanding, concerns about the content of documents and forms, what is being written down).
  • Language (e.g. non-English-speaking backgrounds, not familiar with service-specific jargon and acronyms).
  • Gender, age, experiences, emotional well-being and other individual attributes.
  • Critical situations. Crises traditionally cause disorganisation of thought and hence need special skills by workers in establishing rapport with clients.
  • Culture (including experiences in other countries, music, spirituality, customs, gender, social expectations, body language, and position in the community).
  • Remote location (limited access to services and resources, distance travelled).

Areas such as disability, literacy, language, individual attributes, critical situations, culture, or remote location may affect communication.

Irrespective of their particular needs, all clients must be treated with dignity and all communication must demonstrate respect and be open and non-judgemental.

Strategies for specific needs

You will usually find that there is more than one way to provide the information required. Depending on your client group, you will need to adapt your communication strategy to meet the particular needs of clients and co-workers; you may need to include use of techniques and aids such as:

  • facial expressions, hand signals and other physical gestures
  • objects, photographs, pictures or symbols, written words
  • specific techniques and aids
  • videos or practical demonstration
  • translations of printed material
  • language and cultural interpreters
  • augmentative communication systems, such as devices and processes that replace, or are an adjunct to, speech, e.g. speaking machines, Auslan or Makaton (a system of symbols and pictures).

The techniques and aids that you use must be appropriate for the individual. For example:

  • Unnecessary use of hand movements can be distressing for some people with a mental illness.
  • A person who is deaf may need a specific type of interpreter specialising in either sign language, Auslan or cueing.
  • Pens and notebooks may create barriers when you are communicating with a person who is illiterate. Within a community that has low rates of literacy, informational videos may be more helpful to clients than written brochures.

You should discuss any difficulties in communicating with a particular person with your supervisor or mentor. It may be necessary to invite a third party to support communication with a client, or even to provide an alternative support worker.

People who may be able to assist with communication include professional interpreters, case workers, or non-professional helpers or support people, for example, trusted friends of the client, family members or adults.

Non-professional support persons

Non-professional support people such as family members, carers or professional advocates are not neutral. If these people are to act as interpreters, be aware that the communication may be influenced by advice or emotional involvement.

Be extremely reluctant to use children as interpreters for their parents, especially in any sensitive family matters. This practice can disturb the role and status of members within a family system and contribute to instability and interpersonal problems within the family.


Communication with augmentative and alternative communication systems

Section 1 readings (Word Document 53KB)

Last modified: Wednesday, 5 December 2018, 3:56 PM