Communication barriers

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1. Communicating with people who have communication difficulties
  • People with communication difficulties can be at risk of being excluded from help, for example:
    • People who have sensory impairment (visual/hearing)
    • People who have learning difficulties
    • People who’s first language isn’t English
    • People who have dementia

It is even more important to practice good communication skills and actively listen to people who have communication difficulties.

This video is from AssistiveWare 

2. Simple tips to remove communication barriers

This list is available as a download 

Be patient and polite


  • Good listening removes many barriers. Many people with communication difficulties are very strategic with their gestures and other cues to help express their message

Just ask

  • Many people with communication difficulties are used to telling other how to support and include them. Ask if
    • It would be helpful for you to write
    • You need them to repeat their message
    • They would like help in sharing information

Don’t fuss

  • Speak directly to the person in a normal tone of voice: don't shout

Slow down

  • Take time to listen to the person
  • Let the person set the pace in talking and doing things
  • Pause more between your sentence

Use clear simple language: pronounce words clearly and avoid jargon

Use body language

  • Simple gestures can often be helpful in reinforcing meaning
  • Visual facial expressions are important

Repeat and verify to check that you both understood each other. Restate what you understand so that the person can verify or correct you.

3. Tips for communicating with people who have hearing and/or visual impairments

Tips for communicating with people who are deaf or hard of hearing

  • To get the attention of a person who is deaf or hard of hearing, wave your hand or tap on the person’s shoulder when culturally appropriate
  • Look directly at the person and speak clearly, slowly and expressively without overreacting/overemoting
  • Written notes can often help communication
  • Keep your hands and food away from your mouth when speaking
  • Try to eliminate background noise
  • If you have trouble understanding the speech of a person who is deaf or hard of hearing, let them know


Tips for communicating with people who are blind or partially sighted / with visual impairment

  • Always identify yourself and others who may be with you
  • When conversing in a group, remember to say the name of the person to whom you are speaking to give vocal cues
  • Indicate when you move from one place to another and if you leave or return to a room
  • Let the person know when the conversation is at an end

This video is from The Scottish Sensory Hub 

4. Tips for communicating with people who have a speech impairment
  • Give your whole, unhurried attention when talking to a person who has difficulty speaking
  • Keep your manner encouraging rather than correcting
  • Be patient, do not speak for the person
  • Ask short questions that require short answers or a nod or shake of the head
  • Use hand gestures and notes
5. Tips for communicating with people who have learning difficulties
  • Be patient. Take the time necessary to ensure clear understanding and give the person time to put their thoughts into words
  • Use simple sentences and repeat as necessary
  • Use precise language and simple words
  • Check that you understand the persons responses by asking clarifying questions or paraphrasing
6. Tips for communicating with people whose first language isn't English
  • Speak slowly and clearly, using simple words
  • Identify the language gap and build trust
  • Put it in writing: people who are learning English often understand written language better than spoken
  • Be consistent: don’t use different words for the same thing
  • Use a translation app
7. Communicating with people with dementia

Key principles:

  • Enhanced sensitivity in addition to core communication skills
  • Even less reliance on literal meaning of words –
    • More focus on the feeling that is being conveyed
    • Tuning into the person’s expressions, behaviours, feelings is critical
    • Your tone of voice, gestures, facial expression are even more important
  • Increased need for reassurance and security
  • Be self-aware around your own frustrations and fears


Tips and techniques:

  • Allow more time for people to absorb and respond to information
  • Ask short questions, one at a time
  • Rephrase questions if no response after some time
  • Show with gestures as well as words what you want the person to do
  • Show the person available choices
  • Smile and laugh when appropriate to create warm and trusting atmosphere

This videoclip from Alzheimer Scotland provides useful advice on communicating with people with dementia. It was produced to support communication in reminiscence therapy groups but has wider relevance


Useful resources:

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