Communication

Communication

A person’s communication can be impaired in various ways, such as their ability to:

  • speak, hear and understand what is spoken to them
  • read and understand written text
  • give a response that is appropriate to the communication received
  • understand and respond to social and communication cues, verbal and non-verbal, in order to participate in coherent communication with another person.

Impairments to communication can be caused by sensory impairments (the ability to see or hear), cognitive impairments (the ability to process information and respond appropriately), or physical impairments (difficulties with speech due to impairments in parts of the body related to speaking).

communication01How to communicate

You may need to adjust your communication style or use a different communication strategy to assist someone with a communication impairment. Below are some tips for different kinds of communication impairment.

General tips

  • Relax and be yourself.
  • Treat the individual with dignity, respect and courtesy.
  • Be patient and listen to the person.
  • Offer assistance, but do not insist or be offended if your offer is not accepted.
  • Don’t be afraid to ask questions if you’re unsure of what to do.

Communicating with someone who is blind or has low vision

  • When first approaching the person, introduce yourself by name and state that you work here. It is appropriate to touch the back of your hand to the back of the person’s hand to get their attention.
  • Speak clearly and at a normal pace. Do not shout or raise your voice unnecessarily.
  • For someone with low vision, make sure your face is well lit, unobstructed, and that you look directly at the person you are speaking to. This will help them focus on your voice.
  • If speaking in a noisy environment, suggest you both move into a quieter space where the individual can focus on your voice.
  • When speaking in a group, identify yourself and the person to whom you are speaking.
  • Don’t touch or play with service animals – they are working.
  • Let the person know when you are leaving them.
  • If assisting the person with seating, gently guide their hand to the back of the chair and allow them to manoeuvre into it.

Communicating with someone who is deaf or has hearing loss

  • Get the person’s attention, so they are looking at your face before you start speaking.
  • Speak clearly and at a normal pace. Do not shout or raise your voice.
  • Make sure your face is well lit, unobstructed, and that you look directly at the person you are speaking to. Keep your hands away from your face. This will help them lip read.
  • Offer to communicate in writing or use a speech board. Do not automatically assume you will need these methods until you ask.
  • Be prepared to repeat yourself.

Communicating with someone with an intellectual disability

People with intellectual disabilities, such as Down syndrome, often respond in unconventional or unexpected ways. For example, they may say nothing when asked a direct question, fiddle with objects in their environment, or crowd your personal space. Such behaviours are not generally intended to give offence.

  • Maintain eye contact, even if they don’t.
  • Use simple sentences.
  • Clearly identify your role, state your first name and make it clear that you are seeking to assist.
  • Show where materials are kept, and assist with items such as photocopiers.
  • Address inappropriate behaviour immediately. Explain any rules, regulations or behaviour that is expected or required. It is important for people with intellectual disabilities to know the parameters of acceptable behaviour in any situation.
  • Provide visual clues. Point, use landmarks and use descriptive language (e.g., “the black desk over there, where the computers are”). 

Communicating with someone with a cognitive disability

  • Reduce background noise and distractions, or suggest you both move to a quieter area to speak.
  • Allow the person time to express themselves and finish what they want to say. Do not try to rush them or assist them more than they require.
  • Speak normally and directly in short, clear statements. Do not be overly wordy, and keep your tone friendly and non-critical.
  • Say who you are and state your role in the library.
  • Check that the person understands you (you can ask them). Repeat yourself using different words if necessary.
  • If you do not understand what they have said, it’s OK to ask them to repeat themselves.
  • Use hand gestures to help the person understand you and to show them what you mean.
  • Offer to use a speech board if spoken communication is difficult.

Communicating with someone with a mental health impairment

  • Respect the individual’s personal space – do not stand too close or touch the person, even to comfort. This could trigger an escalation in behaviour.
  • Speak softly but directly in short, clear statements. Do not be overly wordy, and keep your tone friendly and non-critical.
  • Say who you are and state your role in the library.
  • Check that the person understands you (you can ask them). Repeat yourself using different words if necessary.
  • If the person is distressed, acknowledge their distress (e.g., “Yes, you must be feeling very worried right now”).
  • If the person is delusional, avoid agreeing with the delusion or trying to talk them out of the delusions.
  • Reassure them they are safe and you are here to help them (e.g., “I’m here with you and I want you to be safe. I’m not going to leave you until you feel safe”).
  • Ask them how best you can help (e.g., “What can I do for you right now? How can I help you feel safe?”).
  • Offer them a quieter space in the library where they may feel safer. Suggest a space where there are fewer onlookers. If there are onlookers, ask another staff member to discreetly move them on.

Communicating with someone with a speech disorder 

  • Be patient, allow them to finish expressing themselves or completing their sentences. Do not try to complete their sentences.
  • If you do not understand what they have said, it’s OK to ask them to repeat themselves.
  • Offer to use alternative communication, such as speech boards.
  • Try to ask questions that only require yes or no responses, or one-word answers.
  • If you still do not understand them and they are with a companion, ask permission to speak with the companion to help you understand.
  • If speaking through a companion, continue to speak directly to the person and include them in the conversation.

Resources

Speech communication boards for Libraries (Scope)

Types of communication aids (Scope)

Australian Sign Language (Auslan) Sign Bank