The glossary provides the meaning of words used on the Communication Hub that may not be familiar to all readers.


Access to/Accessible communication

Accessible communication means that everyone can access and engage with information being shared. Ensuring access to communication can involve various tools and strategies, and requires communication partners to respect each person's preferred way of communicating.

Accessible service, business or organisation

An accessible service, business or organisation is one that can be used by everyone. Accessible services, businesses and organisations provide supports for people with difficulties and disabilities. This could include a ramp or adding pictures to written information.

Acquired brain injury

Acquired brain injury is any damage to the brain that happens after birth. It can be caused by accident or trauma, stroke, brain infection, brain tumour, or a disease like Parkinson’s disease. Trauma means an accident: a car accident, a fall, or being hit on the head. See our fact sheet Acquired brain injury and communication.


Advocacy means building public support for a particular cause. To advocate means standing up for your rights, standing up for someone else, or an issue you see within the broader community. See People with Disability Australia's fact sheet What is advocacy and Deaf Australia's webpage Advocacy.

Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)

Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a neurodivergent condition that impacts the coordination of information being received by the brain (executive functioning). People with ADHD typically experience difficulty getting organized, staying focused, making realistic plans, and thinking through things before acting. Some may appear fidgety and loud, others may appear withdrawn, while others may appear to focus exclusively on only one thing.


Aphasia/dysphasia is an acquired difficulty with language, usually after damage to the brain after a stroke, brain tumour, head injury and certain types of dementia. Aphasia can affect speaking, listening, reading and/or writing. It does not affect intelligence. Aphasia can have a big impact on relationships, family, career, leisure, healthcare, mental health, and identity. See our fact sheet on Aphasia/Dysphasia.

Augmentative and alternative communication (AAC)

Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC) includes all ways of communicating with, or instead of, speaking. This may be symbols, icons, signing, objects and written words. See our fact sheet on Augmentative and alternative communication (AAC).


Auslan (Australian Sign Language) is the official language of the Australian Deaf community. Read more on the Auslan website.


Autism is a neurodivergent condition which affects the way a person understands and interacts with the world. Autistic people have different strengths and weaknesses to non-autistic people (neurotypical). See our fact sheet on Autism.


Autonomy means to make your own choices and decisions, without undue influence from others. Personal autonomy means having control over your own life, rather than being dependent on others to make life choices for you.


Barriers to communication

Barriers to communication are anything that stops or gets in the way of successful interaction. Barriers can be in the environment. For example, a room may be too noisy for communication. Barriers can also be put in place by people. For example, negative assumptions about what people with communication difficulties can do can create barriers.

Behavioural problems

Behavioural problems (sometimes just 'behaviours') refer to actions that someone does that might concern others or pose a risk to safety. This may include being aggressive, breaking things, or running into busy roads. Such behaviour is always a type of communication, and is often a sign of unmet needs for that person.

Childhood Apraxia of Speech

Childhood Apraxia of Speech (CAS) is a rare condition involving difficulty planning and coordinating the movements of the mouth for talking. It is sometimes called developmental verbal dyspraxia. (Apraxia/dyspraxia can also occur in adults after stroke or other head injury.) See our fact sheet on Childhood Apraxia of Speech.


Communication means the exchange of meaning between two or more people. Communication can occur by talking, writing, reading, gesturing, signing, facial expressions and many other ways. Both people in an interaction are responsible for communication success.

Communication difficulties

Communication difficulties happen when a person experiences barriers to communication, or their communication needs are not met. This can impact their participation in life, social interactions, wellbeing and have other less obvious impacts as well. Visit our page Communication difficulties for more information.

Communication disability

Communication disability is the term preferred by some people to describe communication difficulties. Other terms used are communication disorders or communication impairment. There is no single term or definition used by all people. Read more on our page What is communication disability?

Communication diversity

Communication diversity means to have variety and difference in the ways that people communicate. Valuing communication diversity means supporting all the ways that people communicate, respecting the various languages that people speak, and including all people no matter how they communicate.

Cultural sensitivity/ cultural safety

Cultural sensitivity is the knowledge, awareness, and acceptance of other cultures. Cultural safety means all people of all cultures feel safe, respected and included by others.


eDeaf (with a capital D)

Deaf is used to describe those who use Auslan (Australian Sign Language) to communicate, and who identify as members of the signing Deaf community. They may also identify as 'culturally Deaf.' They are more likely to have been born deaf or become deaf early in life. For more information, visit the Deaf Australia website.

deaf (with a small d)

deaf is a more general term used to describe the physical condition of not being able to hear, and also to describe people who are physically deaf but do not identify as members of the signing Deaf community.


A diagnosis is the identification of the nature of an illness or other problem by examination of the symptoms. A diagnosis helps in making decisions about treatments or suitable supports by identifying factors that can be changes or accommodated.


A dialect is a variation of a language from a particular area or region. It may have small or big differences to a more common language that is used near that place.


Dignity means the state or quality of being worthy of respect. Dignity refers to a person’s right to be valued, respected, and treated ethically.


Discrimination is when someone is treated unfairly because of their age, gender, ethnicity, or disability.


Dysarthria refers to speech that sounds slurred, and is usually caused by muscle weakness or an underlying medical condition. For more information, see our fact sheet on Dysarthria.


Dyspraxia refers to difficulty planning and coordinating motor movements, including moving the parts of the mouth or the hands. A person with speech dyspraxia knows what they want to say or do, but cannot coordinate the mouth or hands to speak or sign.

Foetal alcohol spectrum disorder

Foetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FAS-D) refers to brain damage experienced from birth by babies if their mother drinks alcohol when pregnant. People with FAS-D can have difficulties with learning, language, memory, and managing emotions. For more information, visit the FASD Hub website.


Fluency describes the normal flow and rhythm of speaking. When the rhythm and flow is disrupted, this can be called stuttering. See the definition of Stuttering below, and for more information see our fact sheet on Stuttering.


Hard of hearing

Hard of hearing is a term used to describe people who acquire a hearing loss in late childhood or adulthood, or who have a mild or moderate hearing loss. They usually communicate using speech, lip-reading and residual hearing (often amplified by hearing aids). The term hearing impaired is used by many people as an alternative to 'hard of hearing'.

Hearing loss

Hearing loss is a general term that refers to the state of hearing acuity, rather than to the people who may experience it. For more information, see our fact sheets on Conductive Hearing Loss, and Sensorineural Hearing Loss.


Inclusion is both a policy and a practice. It is a policy of providing equal access to opportunities and resources for people who might otherwise be excluded or marginalized, such as those who have disabilities. It is the practice of providing a safe and welcoming place or group for all people.


Independence is the freedom to live your own life in your own way. Someone can be independent with the help of aids, technology, and supports.

Intellectual disability/impairment

Intellectual disability is when a person has difficulty with learning and thinking. Sometimes, people use categories to describe the severity of intellectual disability. These categories include mild, moderate and severe, which relates to scores on a test that measures IQ. See our fact sheet on Intellectual disability and communication.


Intelligibility means how clearly a person speaks so that his or her speech can be understood by a listener or reader. So a person may be able to speak, but if their intelligibility is low, others may not understand them and other supports for speaking may be needed.



Language refers the shared system of spoken, signed, symbolled or written words through which human beings express themselves, understand each other and exchange shared meaning through communication.


Languages refers to the specific system of meaning used within a community, such as English, Chinese, Auslan or Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander languages. Every language includes its own forms of spoken words, writing, signing, gestures, etc.


Literacy is the ability to read and write, and the language skills required for reading and writing. See our fact sheet on Literacy.


Mental health

Mental health refers to a person's psychological and emotional well-being. Mental health conditions or illnesses impact a person's emotions, thoughts, and behaviour. For more information, see our fact sheet on Mental health and communication needs, or visit Mental Health .gov or Beyond Blue.

Multi-modal communication

'Mode’ is another word for ‘way’, so multi-modal means combining multiple different ways to communicate. This may be speaking, gestures, pictures, writing, technology and more. Everyone uses multiple ways to communicate. However, multiple and different ways to communicate can be more important for people who cannot speak.

Non-verbal communication

Non-verbal means not using speaking to communicate. It is vital to understand that 'non-verbal' does not mean ‘non-communicating’. A person who does not use speaking will always use other ways to communicate.

Object symbols

Object symbols are a type of augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) that uses objects to represent items and words, such as a whistle representing time to go to sport, or a plastic fruit to represent a request for something to eat.



Pragmatics is a jargon term to describe the way language is used in social contexts. Pragmatics includes knowing about making eye contact, taking turns in conversation, how loudly someone talks, how close they stand, the appropriateness of topic, and topic maintenance. See the definition of Social skills below for more information.

Robust communication system

A robust communication system describes a way of communicating for different purposes and includes key words, specific vocabulary, the alphabet, and the ability to add words to the system. A robust communication system allows a person to communication anything they want to say, anywhere and anytime.



Self-determination is the ability of a person to control their own life. It can also apply to the ability of a group of people to ensure community and government are organised from within that group.

Sign language

Sign language is a system of communication using the hands, face and body to convey messages instead of speaking. For example, Auslan is the preferred sign language of the Australian Deaf community.

Social skills

Social skills are the skills we use to interact with others. Social skills include how we use eye contact, waiting for a turn to speak, managing the loudness of our voice, and interpreting body language or gestures. Social skills suitable for a party or at home are different from the social skills needed at work. See the definition of Pragmatics above.

Speech/speech sounds

Speech or speech sounds are the separate sounds in words when talking. Making speech sounds involves precise movements of the tongue, lips, jaw and palate. Speech sounds need to be clear so that people can understand the words someone is saying. For more information, download Speech Pathology Australia's factsheet The Sound of Speech: Preschool and School Aged Children.


Stuttering refers to interruptions to the flow and ease of talking. Stuttering is when a person’s speech has unplanned breaks, getting stuck on sounds, repetitions and stretches of sounds and words. Also the definition of Fluency above and also see our fact sheet on Stuttering.

Tactile signing

Tactile signing is a method of communicating using touch that is used by some people who have both a hearing loss and sight impairment. The deafblind person places their hands over those of the signer, or the signer places their hands on the person’s body to communicate. For more information, visit the National Deaf Children's Society.


Tracheotomy, is a surgical procedure which involves making an incision (cut) on the front of the neck to create a direct airway through this incision into the trachea (breathing pipe). This allows air to get to the lungs when the person cannot breathe normally, for example, if they are unconscious or in a coma as a result of a severe head injury or stroke. However, a tracheotomy will stop the use of the voice for talking.


Trauma is an emotional distress response to an event in someone’s life. Trauma can last for a short time, or a long time after the event. Some trauma is ongoing because the events are still happening in a person’s life. Trauma can have big impacts on a person’s life and wellbeing. For more information, visit Speech Pathology Australia's page on mental health and trauma or visit Health Direct for mental health helplines.


The sound produced using the vocal cords or voice box and uttered through the mouth as speaking or singing. 


No entries; let us know if you have suggestions for additional words to add to the glossary.


Content for this glossary was derived from the various websites linked to as well as: