New terms for championing the communication rights of Australians

Discover the new recommended terms from Speech Pathology Australia to use when referring to people with disability who experience communication difficulties.

In February 2024, Speech Pathology Australia (SPA) announced the results of their review of terms used when referring to people with disability who experience communication difficulties to raise awareness and support advocacy activities. 

Why use consistent terminology in advocacy?

Consistent terminology can improve clarity, foster shared understanding, and essentially help everyone involved in championing the rights of people with communication support needs to get ‘on the same page’

What are the preferred terms and how were they chosen?

Speech Pathology Australia (SPA) sponsored a comprehensive study in 2021 and 2022 called the Communication Access and Inclusion Terminology Project to determine the ‘most acceptable’ terms to refer to people with communication disability and to the processes and environments that support communication. 

The preferred terms are: 

  • people with communication support needs’ to refer to people with communication disability or difficulty 
  • inclusive communication’ to refer to the processes and environments to support communication 

It was important for the terms to be the most acceptable as, in addition to being a powerful tool in advocacy, words ‘affect the way people feel about themselves and how they are viewed by others’, says SPA. 

The study was guided by a reference group comprising members of the Communication Access Alliance, speech pathologists, people with lived experience of communication disability and AAC, and advocates of people living with lifelong communication disability (such as intellectual disability, autism spectrum disorder, cerebral palsy, childhood apraxia of speech and acquired progressive and acquired non-progressive communication disability). 

The study was conducted in two phases: 

  • Phase one to identify current terminology and acceptability of any terminology identified in the Communication Access Literature Review, which was commissioned by SPA on behalf of the Communication Access Alliance. 
  • Phase two to determine most acceptable/preferred terms for referring to people with communication difficulties and the processes and environments to address communication barriers. 

The participants of both phases included a wide range of stakeholders across Australia to ensure a variety of perspectives. Phase one involved online focus groups and phase two was an online survey.  

How the findings apply to Better Rehab

The study discovered contexts when other specific, non-preferred terms are relevant, including the use of ‘communication disability’ in the context of the NDIS. 

The study also found there are many terms currently used to refer to people with communication support needs, some broad and inclusive, others specific, and most varying in meaning and implications.  

Many study participants preferred terms that reflect their individual situation rather than those that are ‘inclusive of a broader group of people with communication difficulty’.  

It’s also important to note that the new terms were not the preferred terms for all study participants, despite overall acceptance of them. 

You can read more about the study, including the reasons why consistent terminology should be used and its impact on advocating for communication rights, on Speech Pathology Australia’s website

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