Supporting Communication

Supporting communication

Communication partners

A communication partner is anyone who talks or interacts with you.

Communication is always a two-way process. Both people involved in a communicative interaction are responsible for successful communication.

For a person with communication difficulties, their communication partner is even more important. (Read some tips for communication partners and see Learn more below for the legal use of the term 'communication partner'.)


Speech pathologist, talks about the importance of communication partners

‘A person may have complex communication needs, but if they have access to a robust communication system, and if they have access to engaged and mindful communication partners, the impact of those communication support needs is decreased, and they may not be, or feel, or experience disability.’

The supportive communication partner

We all need our communication partners to show respect, patience, and a willingness to learn.

We all want a communication partner interested in what we have to say. We want to be welcomed and included in conversation around us.

Supportive communication partners understand that:

  • there are many, many ways to communicate, and all are valid
  • a person’s preferred way of communicating should be respected, including signing, gesturing, using pictures or a device
  • everyone needs to connect with others, build social relationships, participate in everyday activities, and express their personality, humour, interests and dislikes
  • a person’s speaking skills may not represent their communication ability
  • the way we treat people with communication difficulties influences how they are perceived by others and how they perceive themselves
  • not being able to communicate can be very frustrating, and this can sometimes lead to behaviour that shows anger, stress or distress.

Helping to support communication

An article in The Conversation in 2018, called We can all help to support communication for people with disabilities explained that we can all help by:

  • removing any communication barriers
  • preparing for communication success
  • building a conversation together
  • using communication aids and alternative strategies when you talk.

Some people with communication difficulties will tell others how to support their communication. Others will require communication partners to ask. Some people with significant communication difficulties may have written information that explains how they communicate. Others need their family, friends or carers to explain the best way to interact.

Read some tips for communication partners.


Communication advocate and AAC user gives advice to communication partners

‘I would suggest they find out what the person prefers and learns their shortcuts. So take the time to learn their shortcuts, and most of all, just be natural and honest. Find out the person’s choices first – and never take their communication devices or modes away. Even if you were hearing the same word on repeat, that’s still communication and still valuable.’

Communication partner training

Various organisations provide support and training for communication partners. This is particularly important for those who interact with people with communication difficulties regularly at school, work or socially. 

For example, the NDIS provides online Supporting effective communication modules to support workers to learn how to be effective communication partners.

As well as learning skills, training can help people to identify and challenge any negative or limiting attitudes and assumptions they hold about people with communication difficulties.

Learn more

Training to Be A Better Communication Partner Five online and self-paced courses from AGOSCI with everything you need to get started on your journey to becoming a better communication partner.

In some legal contexts, the term 'communication partner' has a specific meaning. For example, in the South Australian justice system, 'communication partner' refers to an approved person who is providing communication assistance to someone with communication needs during certain interactions in the justice system. Read more.