Communication Disability

Communication Disability

What is communication disability?

Some people experience ongoing barriers to communicating what they want and when they want.

This site uses the term ‘communication difficulty’ to describe this experience. But not everyone uses these words. Some people describe their experience as 'communication disability' instead. So, this site also uses 'communication disability'.

The choice to use ‘difficulty’ or ‘disability’ is personal. Respecting a person’s preference for how they describe their communication experience is important.

In 2015, 1.2 million Australians reported some level of communication disability. This is a wide variety of people - from young to aged - with very different types of needs.

Meet some people and hear their personal communication stories and experiences, including the types of communication supports that help them to live a good life.

Defining disability

Even those who use the term 'communication disability' can define 'disability' in different ways.

Some people use the World Health Organisation definition of 'disability' as any condition, mild to severe, of the body or mind, that makes it more difficult for the person to do certain activities and interact with the world around them.

Other people think that 'disability' is the experience of negative impacts by a person with an impairment only when their support needs are not met. So, a person might have a body impairment or health condition, but if they can do all they want to, then they do not experience disability.

In Australia, the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) uses a specific meaning of 'disability', which is a significantly reduced functional capacity due to a permanent impairment.

Some people might identify as a person with a disability but might not agree with any of these definitions. This is okay!

Why does the term 'communication disability' matter?

In Australia, the government uses the term 'communication disability' to collect information about people to help plan for appropriate funding, services and support. The Australian Bureau of Statistics says the term 'communication disability' covers a wide range of conditions that impact a person’s ability to understand and be understood by others.

Communication disability is sometimes called an invisible disability. It is not always obvious to others when a person experiences barriers in communication. The impacts of communication disability are not always understood by the broader community.

Lack of understanding can lead to more barriers and negative assumptions about what a person with communication disability can do.

The disability rights movement has powerfully changed community attitudes over time. Having the term 'communication disability' helps people to advocate for the right of every person to accessible communication. It helps to improve broader community understanding and support.

So, some people with communication difficulties may not identify as having a disability. But the term 'communication disability' is important for advocacy, raising awareness and ensuring funding for support.


Mother of Kate, teenager and AAC user

‘It's like drinking water. Everyone should have the ability to be able to do that, and to be supported to do that as well. Without communicating, you're not an active member in society and you're left behind.’

Learn more

The Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) defines communication disability as a wide range of conditions affecting a person's ability to understand and be understood by others. Levels of limitation range from mild to profound and can be temporary or last a lifetime. Download a fact sheet on communication disability from the ABS.

NDIS definition of disability The National Disability and Insurance Scheme, for the purposes of allocating funding, defines disability as ‘substantially reduced functional capacity’, and ‘permanent’.

World Health Organisation definition The World Health Organisation (WHO) defines disability as any condition, mild to severe, of the body or mind that makes it more difficult for the person to do certain activities and interact with the world around them.

Communication Disability: The Hidden Disability This blog post was created by Beam Services to celebrate Speech Pathology Week 2021. It gives an accessible overview of communication disability, impacts, and awareness.

Disability Royal Commission Resources for First Nations People This page includes the ‘Respectful Listening’ artwork, created by Wiradjuri artist and disability advocate Uncle Paul Constable Calcott to the Disability Royal Commission story. It also provides an infographic First Nations people with disability in pdf format.