There is nothing more important than being able to communicate with those around you.

Many people with physical disabilities have trouble speaking. This is due to problems with the muscles used for speaking. A person with complex communication needs (CCN) is often not able to communicate through speech or writing. Many learn to communicate in other ways, including gestures, facial expressions, limited speech and the use of low or high-tech devices. Many have profiles or dictionaries containing information about how they communicate.

Difficulties communicating as you get older

Many people with physical disabilities start to notice communication becomes more difficult as they get older. Some of the problems include:

  • Increased word finding difficulties
  • Muffled or slurred speech
  • Difficulty answering questions
  • Relying on somebody to interpret a message for you
  • Being asked multiple times to repeat your message
  • Difficulty projecting your voice
  • Getting easily confused with new information
  • Getting confused when telling a story
  • Difficulty accessing your device
  • Forgetting where words are located on your device
  • Using your communication system (device or tool) less than in recent week, months or years

These can be a sign of a decline in your memory, cognition and understanding, or the strength and coordination of the muscles used for speaking.

What can I do to improve and maintain my communication?

See a speech pathologist for a review of your communication needs. They may help you by:

  • Finding ways for you to communicate with those around you
  • Finding ways to remember what is happening around you
  • Finding ways to improve your strength and coordination of your muscles that help you speak
  • Recommending low or high tech Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC) tools and methods and support you and those who support you to learn how to use them

See an occupational therapist to help you to access any devices you use.

Create a Communicatin Profile or Dictionary to help those around you to communicate with you in a meaningful and respectful way. A speech pathologist together with your family and support network are the best people to help you create your profile.

There are many communication templates available to use, some of which can be adapted to your own style. To find one that suits you:




Person centre planning templates are also useful to help you communicate with those around you, there are many online, this link is a good starting point:


Explore aids, tools, equipment and Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC) options by visiting these links:


Independent Living Centre Australia

SCOPE Australia

Communicating with Health Professionals

Communicating your story many times when you have a physical disability can be frustrating – while health professionals want to engage in the best way possible, they often have limited time to get to know all the people they have to see. In a hospital setting, their time can be particularly limited. Many people with physical disabilities have expressed their frustration with having to repeat their story so many times.

There are several ways to facilitate better communication with health professionals. First, it’s important for your health information to be compiled into a concise document that can be shared, for example a Communication Passbook or ‘book about me’. Family, support staffs, a therapy team and GP can assist in creating this document, which will help health professionals understand medical background, medication history, treatment recommendations, referrals, activities, likes and dislikes and other relevant details.

Tips for health appointments

  • A list of medications and health concerns should be prepared in advance and taken to appointments. These can be saved on a communication device if needed.
  • A Communication Passport or ‘book about me’ and communication profile and dictionary should be taken to every appointment. These should be handed to the health professional at the start of the appointment.
  • Use your communication board or book or device or prompt cards.
  • A trusted friend, family member or support worker should be taken to every appointment, to help if needed.
  • Notes should be taken at every appointment – if help is needed to take notes, the health professional or support person attending the appointment can assist.

To learn more, these references may be of interest:

Buzio, Morgan & Blount (2002). The Experiences of Adults with Cerebral Palsy During Periods of Hospitalisation. Australian Journal of Advanced Nursing Vol 19.

Balandin & Morgan (2001). Preparing for the Future: Aging and Alternative and Augmentative Communication. Augmentative and Alternative Communication. Vol 17.

Hemsley, Balandin& Togher (2008). Professionals' views on the roles and needs of family carers of adults with cerebral palsy and complex communication needs in hospital. Journal of Intellectual and Developmental Disability, 33 (2): 127-136.

Morgan, Soh & McGinley (2014). Health-related quality of life of ambulant adult with cerebral palsy and its association with falls and mobility decline: a preliminary cross sectional study. Health and Quality of Life Outcomes, 1: 132 (b).

Morris, Yorkston& Clayman (2014). Improving Communication in the Primary Care Setting: Perspectives of Patients with Speech Disabilities. Patient, 7: 397-401.