Supporting disabled children, young people and their families: guidance

Guidance to help improve the experiences of disabled children, young people, and their families.

Inclusive communication

In this section you can find out…

What is inclusive communication

Developing channels for better communication is vital for a child or young person’s development and wellbeing. We need to create environments and opportunities that allow all children and young people to understand their world and express themselves about whatever they want, in whatever way they wish and are able.

Everyone uses a range of ways of communicating – to both understand the world and express themselves. For example people use eye contact, gestures, facial expression, body language and contact, sounds like laughing or sighing, pictures, symbols, speech and writing.

Communication is a fundamental human right. Many young people do not communicate using written, spoken or sign language, but they are still communicating. This can include the use of eye contact, gestures, facial expressions, body language and contact, sounds like laughing or sighing, pictures and symbols. It is important to ensure these young peoples’ communication is recognised, respected, consistently interpreted and responded to in order to ensure they  can access the same rights and opportunities as others. Parents may also have communication support needs so resources and services targeting parents need to be available in inclusive communication formats.

Inclusive communication is an approach to communication which enables as many people as possible to be included.

Organisations (from any sector) which adopt an Inclusive Communication approach:

  • Recognise that all human beings use many ways of understanding and expressing themselves.
  • Encourages, supports and enables people to use whatever ways of understanding and expressing themselves which they find easiest.

For example if people find it easiest to understand information in photographs or video then a service would provide information about how to access services in that way.

We published Principles of Inclusive Communication: An information and self-assessment tool for public authorities in 2011. The principles are:·       

  • communication accessibility and physical accessibility are equally important.
  • every community or group will include people with different communication support needs.
  • communication is a two-way process of understanding others and expressing yourself
  • be flexible in the way your service is provided
  • effective user involvement will include the participation of people with different communication support needs
  • keep trying

We have worked with partners to develop the Inclusive Communication Hub which is full of resources aimed to improve inclusive communication across Scotland.

Communication, Access, Literacy and Learning (CALL) Scotland also have a number of helpful resources on their website.

In March 2018,  Part 4 of the Health (Tobacco, Nicotine etc. and Care) (Scotland) Act 2016 commenced which introduced a duty on health boards to provide communication equipment and support in using that equipment to children and adults who have lost their voice or have difficulty speaking.

Communication equipment is frequently referred to, and is one part of Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC).

To support delivery of the legislative duty a suite of tools have been developed.

Guidance on the Provision of Communication Equipment and Support in using that equipment was published on 31 May 2018. This provides practical information on the use of communication equipment, the support needed to use it, and our vision and principles. We hope the guidance will be helpful to people who currently, or in the future, use communication equipment, their families, practitioners and partner agencies supporting them, including those responsible for delivering the legislation. An easy read version of the guidance was published on 24 October 2018.

The National Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC) Core Pathway has now been developed, and was published on 31 August 2018. The pathway encompasses, the core elements from existing local pathways.  It sets out what service users can expect from their AAC journey – incorporating information on assessment for, and provision of, communication equipment and support in using the equipment.

What are some ways my child can communicate

Children and young people may not use speech or writing to express themselves. They may instead use:

  • “Augmentative and alternative communication (AAC)” systems. AAC includes high tech. (power sourced (battery or charger with mains adapter and in the main has a voice output) as well as low tech. such as picture boards or objects.
  • Their very own “language” of gestures, body language, facial expressions, sounds etc. which is understood by only those that know them very well. Your child might, on first impressions, appear to be non-verbal. This is different however from being non-communicative. Some children may take a while to use their movements, sounds or facial expressions intentionally. With consistent communication support they may however be able to begin to use these unintentional expressions deliberately to communicate.

To get advice and support with your child’s communication (speech or not) and / or to find out if your child could benefit from AAC you can refer them yourself (or any another service can refer them with your consent) to your local Speech and Language Therapy (SLT) service. You can find out more about them via your local health board.

The website Now Hear Me helps provides this guidance and more. Communication Matters are the UK-wide charity for AAC and have a number of helpful resources on their website. AAC Scotland also have helpful information on AAC.

We recognise that many people who are D/deaf, blind or who have a sensory impairment do not identify themselves as disabled. This resource uses the social definition of disability which assumes that people are not ‘disabled’ because of their identity but because aspects of society, like public transport, schools or services often make it difficult for them to participate fully and that they face barriers in their everyday life because of this.

Scottish digital voices are  provided by CALL Scotland and funded by the Scottish Government, they are free for the Scottish public sector.

The  voices can be used to:

  • read and listen to educational resources such as electronic books - spoken using a Scottish voice.
  • speak, using a voice output communication aid with a Scottish voice.

How are we reducing barriers in communication

See section on Inclusive Communication and AAC above.

The Scottish Government is committed to improving the services, support and care available to people who have sight loss, deafness and dual sensory loss. Our long-term strategy, See Hear, commits to ensuring that children, young people and adults have the same access to opportunities and public services as everyone else, including health care, social care, employment, education, and leisure. The strategy was jointly endorsed by the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities (COSLA) and is being implemented through local partnerships of statutory and third sector organisations. Local See Hear leads are in place to identify priority areas and drive forward the delivery of the Strategy at a local level.

The British Sign Language (BSL) National Plan 2017-2023 means that D/deaf and Deafblind BSL users will be fully involved in daily and public life in Scotland, as active, healthy citizens and will be able to make informed choices about every aspect of their lives. The Getting it Right for Every Child approach is fully embedded, with a D/deaf or Deafblind child and their family offered the right information and support at the right time to engage with BSL.

What other support is available

We have commissioned and funded contactScotland-BSL. This is the UK’s first publicly funded online BSL video relay service, which enables Deaf BSL users to contact public and voluntary services, and for these services to contact them. A number of organisations in Scotland have already signed up to use the service, including NHS Scotland, Citizen’s Advice Scotland and The Scottish Children’s Reporter’s Administration. To use this service, you can access it via their website or download their app.

More Information
The Scottish Council on Visual Impairment (SCOVI), and deafscotland provide information on voluntary organisations which provide advice and support to people with sight loss and deafness in Scotland.

Back to top