Australians ‘Too Self-Conscious’ to Talk to People With Communication Difficulty
7 December 2017 at 4:33 pm
A lack of disability awareness is causing Australians to feel too self-conscious and anxious to talk to people that use alternate methods of communication leaving those with communication difficulty feeling frustrated and lonely, according to new research.
Disability support organisation Scope Australia has conducted more than 100 in-depth interviews with people with a disability, and commissioned a survey of 1,000 Australians to start a conversation about what it said was one of the most common, yet least understood social challenges.
According to Scope one in seven Australians experience communication disability in their lifetime, yet the research found Australians feel too self-conscious and anxious to talk to people that use alternate methods of communication.
Scope CEO Dr Jennifer Fitzgerald said people who cannot rely on speech to communicate depend on a range of tools, such as electronic speech devices, spelling boards, word boards or picture boards.
“Imagine not being able to rely on speech to communicate with a taxi driver, a waiter, a police officer or even your neighbour. Well, for a quarter of a million Australians, it’s a daily reality,” Fitzgerald said.
“Our research shows social isolation and emotional vulnerability are all too common for the 245,000 Australians living with a communication disability.”
The research found Australians were reluctant to converse with people with a disability, with two in five worried they would offend the person (39.6 per cent), or just did not know how to (39.4 per cent).
Meanwhile, as many as four in five Australians (79.3 per cent) believed it was best to direct their conversation to a support person.
In contrast, surveys of people with a disability found talking to a support person instead of the individual made them feel frustrated (46 per cent), worried (41 per cent), and lonely (30 per cent). But when spoken to directly, respondents reported feeling happy (78 per cent), safe (63 per cent) and relaxed (66 per cent).
Carmen, an individual that Scope supports with a communication disability, said she sometimes felt invisible.
“I love my life, but sometimes people treat me differently because of my speech,” Carmen said.
“People avoid me. They speak to the person I am with instead of speaking to me. Sometimes I feel like I’m invisible. The worst thing is when people pretend to understand me – I know they haven’t understood me because their answers don’t make sense.”
She called on people to be patient.
“Be patient, conversation may take me a bit longer. What I have to say is important to me. Please don’t pretend that you have understood me. Ask me to repeat myself, I don’t mind repeating myself several times,” she said.
“I know my speech is sometimes hard to understand. Communication is how we connect as people. It makes us feel valued, and we all have something to say.”
Fitzgerald said the lack of disability awareness in Australia was unfortunate.
“Communication is such a common challenge for people living with a disability, so it’s unfortunate that a lack of education has left Australians feeling too anxious to have a respectful conversation,” she said.
“Our research found Australians are unaware of the range of communication tools that enable people with a disability to express themselves, with four out of five saying they have never seen a spelling board (82.4 per cent) or a digital aid that speaks words (81 per cent).”
Scope is now calling on organisations to undertake disability awareness education as well as get accredited in communication accessibility to ensure their businesses are ready to welcome people with a communication disability.
“Scope is committed to finding pathways and solutions to enable and facilitate inclusion and access, and that’s why we are calling on businesses and individuals to get educated on the different ways you can communicate – to help make Australia more accessible and inclusive,” Fitzgerald said.