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Face-to-Face: Exploring communication access to government services

The experiences of people with aphasia and speakers of English as a second language.

One in five people may experience communication difficulties at some point in their lives. This may be due, for example, to specific communication problems such as aphasia (a language disorder after brain damage) or the difficulties faced by some people who use English as a second language (ESL). There is a need for government policy to recognise and support these people in their interactions with government services.

This study will investigate the experiences of people with aphasia and people using ESL as well as the relevant policy context in Western Australia (WA). Through in-depth interviews, this study will explore:

  • The barriers and facilitators for people with aphasia and users of ESL when accessing government services in face-to-face interactions;
  • The similarities and differences in the experiences of these two groups during such interactions;
  • The connection between communication access and social inclusion; and
  • How the findings might impact on future government service training and policy development.

Key messages

Effective communication is the currency for accessing a wide range of public services and underpins a person’s ability to engage in society. As legislation that helps people with physical difficulties access and move around buildings has been implemented in recent years so is there is a need for legislative support to remove the barriers that make it difficult for people with communication issues to access services. "Communication access" is a term used to describe the ways in which services can modify their interactions and environments to help people with communication disability or those who use ESL realise their full potential. However this concept has yet to translate into policies which support those with communication support needs.

The literature in this area reports on the experiences of specific sub groups of people with communication disabilities (stroke, hearing impairment, head injury etc) and those who have difficulties associated with cultural and language differences. However, although it has been suggested that there may be some overlap between both groups, there are no studies examining whether they report similar experiences. By exploring whether these disparate groups report similar principles which promote face-to-face interactions, we will further our understanding of how many people could benefit from the development of government communication access policies.


The study will use a qualitative description approach to report on the barriers and facilitators to communication access and to explore the connection between communication access and social inclusion.

Five people with aphasia and five ESL speakers will take part in an in-depth interview about their face-to-face interactions with a range of government service providers in Western Australia.

Potential outcomes

To become socially inclusive and equitable, government policy needs to recognise the fundamental importance of communication access. This study will explore whether people with aphasia and those who speak ESL report comparable perceptions of what helps or hinders face-to-face interactions. It will also examine how communication access impacts on their social integration and offer insights for future policy development.


Susan Booth
Professor Elizabeth Armstrong
Professor Caroline Taylor AM
Associate Professor Deborah Hersh 

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