What is communication impairment?

Try to imagine…

  • being unable to read this.
  • being unable to tell someone else about it.
  • being unable to find the words you wanted to say.
  • opening your mouth and no sound coming out.
  • words coming out jumbled up.
  • not getting the sounds right.
  • words getting stuck, someone jumping in, saying words for you.
  • not hearing the questions.
  • not being able to see, or not being able to understand, the signs and symbols around you.
  • not understanding the words or phrases.
  • not being able to write down your ideas.
  • being unable to join a conversation.
  • people ignoring what you are trying to say; feeling embarrassed; and moving away…


Why does it happen?

Communication is one of the most complicated skills we learn. Effective communication (speech, language, reading, writing and social skills) needs many parts of the brain to be working together. It needs the ‘equipment’ (hearing, vision, lips, tongue, roof of the mouth, voicebox) to be in full working order. We need the right opportunities at the right time for communication to develop along normal lines. For some 7% of children this does not happen and their communication skills are delayed or disrupted. Both children and adults may have illnesses or accidents, which cause them to lose these learned skills. Sometimes, we misuse or damage the ‘equipment’.


What is the effect?

Communication impairment is a hidden disability which is isolating and distressing. People often cannot explain the pain and frustration they feel. The loss of confidence and self-esteem can affect their personal and social relationships. Their disability can reduce their opportunities in education and employment.


“Living with Communication Impairment” is a qualitative study that was commissioned by the Communications Forum and researched by a team from the Department of Clinical Communication Studies, City University, London.

The sample consisted of 18-70 year old men and women with a wide range of different types and severity of communication impairment (including dysphasia, dyslexia, stammering, autism, laryngectomy and profound hearing and visual impairment). Their experiences are eloquently expressed in their own words.

The Study found that people with very different communication impairment face common barriers in:-

  • education – where they are often rejected or stigmatised by teachers because they cannot perform conventionally and may be bullied by fellow students.
  • employment – where they have difficulty in getting interviews and in interviewing successfully, and where they have problems getting the support and special aids and equipment needed to work effectively.
  • everyday life – where lack of understanding and the stigma of communication impairment damages relationships.
  • financial matters – where access to and advice on benefits are made extremely difficult because those responsible lack knowledge or sensitivity, and where earning power is lowered or removed as a result of the communication impairment.

An Agenda for Change will be based on these findings. The Communications Forum will campaign for:-

  • greater understanding of communication impairment.
  • better training for health, education and social care professionals.
  • working partnerships between the professionals, people with communication impairment and their families.
  • easily accessible advice, information and support.
  • recognition that people with communication impairment are disabled people.
  • consequent changes in legislation and effective enforcement of the Disability Discrimination Act.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *