Communication disabilities

28 June, 2018

We read with great interest the many topics discussed on this forum but we have noticed that there is rarely anything about communication disabilities.

The term ‘communication disabilities’ refers to difficulties in making oneself understood and/or understanding what others say (using spoken words, picture symbols, gestures, sign language, writing or other forms of alternative or augmentative communication) that affects a person’s ability to participate in life. This is not, however, because a person doesn’t speak a specific language. Communication disabilities might be experienced as a result of, or alongside, many health conditions, impairments or other disabilities, including for example, cerebral palsy, stroke, cleft palate, brain damage, dementia, developmental delay, intellectual impairment, physical impairment.

Services for people who experience communication disabilities are very limited in many under-resourced settings, including most Majority World countries. There may be many reasons why service access for people with communication disabilities is limited, including the focus of intervention / rehabilitation is often on more visible impairments, communication disabilities are often hidden, and because communication disabilities manifest themselves in multiple ways, and there is a lack of expertise – intervention may take time. People with communication disabilities may not achieve full participation due to societal attitudes about disability, misunderstanding about the causes and nature of communication disabilities, as well as the lack of services that meet their needs.

We are speech and language therapists working to improve knowledge and understanding of communication disabilities amongst education, health and social care professionals, and to increase equitable service access for people with communication disabilities in under-resourced settings. However, there are very few SLTs in many Majority World countries and developing services for people with communication disabilities will need to rely on others. Services may be more effective if clinical skills, research and training are shared with, developed, and delivered with and by, others who work with people with disabilities. This may include teachers, health professionals social care staff, family and community members.

We look forward to hearing from anyone with an interest in this area of work. More information about our projects can be found at:

Julie Marshall's work

Helen Barrett's work


our latest project about sgbv/srhe and refugees with communication disabilities in Rwanda

Julie Marshall and Helen Barrett, Communicability Global

Reader in Communication Disability and Development,

Health Professions Dept. Manchester Metropolitan University,

Birley Fields Campus, 53 Bonsall Street, Manchester. M15 6GX

Tel: +44 161 247 2581

Twitter: @jemarshall13

Honorary Senior Lecturer, School of Health Sciences,

University of KwaZuluNatal, South Africa.

New papers:

Marshall & Wickenden (2018) Services for PWCD in Uganda-supporting a new SLT Profession

Marshall & Barrett 2017. Human rights of refugee survivors of SGBV. IJSLP

Wylie et al 2017. Self-help & help-seeking for communication disability in Ghana


LEAP project: street connected children in Western Kenya

Refugee survivors of SGBV with communication disability

MMU University of Ghana SLT Link

Communication Therapy International - Supporting SLTs to work In Low and Middle Income Countries

HIFA profile: Julie Marshall is a Reader in Communication Disability and Development at Manchester Metropolitan University in the United Kingdom. She has a professional interest in communication disability / speech and language difficulties speech and language therapy. Email address: j.e.marshall AT