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How people can communicate when they cannot talk

Stephen Hawking who was nonverbal
Stephen Hawking with his assistive communication device.

In this article I will discuss the ways that people can communicate when they cannot talk.

The importance of communication

If people don't communicate with others frequently it is not good for their mental health from my understanding. It is essential that they can do this easily. Speech language therapists should ensure that people feel as comfortable with communicating as possible.

Some parents place more importance on the mobility aspect of disability by participating in programmes to improve walking. I think that dealing with communication issues should also have priority and speech language therapists could help parents to understand how important communication is.

Communication possibly affects empathy levels and people are more likely to understand what they are going through if they have face to face conversations. Sometimes I feel like I am less empathetic and that could be because I don't communicate with people often. On flip side people tend to jump to conclusions and communicating with them makes this less likely.

Communication can also lead to employment opportunities. For example Lost Voice Guy is a comedian that delivers jokes using a communication device. The same assistive technology can be used to deliver speeches.

Communication doesn't have to be live so depending on their technology they can write books with their communication devices.

Effects of slower communication

I am blunter than regular people because it takes me so long to communicate. I prefer to get thoughts out quickly but this isn't always best especially when dealing with carers and employees. However this can also be an advantage as I was briefly a comedian and bluntness makes good comedy.

Slower communication can sometimes feel like a burden and I don't routinely chat online. I know of a child that refused to use communication aides. Perhaps letting the person know of famous people with disabilities such as Stephen Hawking or Lost Voice Guy could be a way of encouraging the person to communicate.

Sometimes it can be a burden to the other person and this is not just your impression. If someone you know is acting like your communication method is troublesome perhaps you can find another way to communicate with them eg over Email.

Usually devices or people can predict what the other person is saying so that spelling entire words is not necessary. This can be useful but sometimes people constantly predict the wrong word and this slows the conversation down.

Since communication is slow sometimes the conversation shifts to a new topic before the person finishes typing what they were going to say. Most of the time people will talk while someone is typing but I find this less stressful than having people wait.

Similarly it can be annoying when you are typing a good point and someone else says it right before you have finished.

Multiple other people can be speaking in conversations and it can be difficult to find a time to jump in the conversation especially if it takes you a few seconds to activate the speaking functions. I have accepted that sometimes I need to blurt out what I have to say, hopefully people understand why I do that and you can explain the reason if you deem this necessary.

Communicating without assistive devices

Starting from when they're very young they can learn to point to pictures on their tray. For example they could have a symbol for toilet, yes and no. I think that it is better to have them start as soon as they can.

If they are not in a wheelchair the symbols could be in a small book or they could press buttons on a device to communicate.

If they later learn to spell the symbols can turn into letters so they can communicate effectively. People around them will have to learn to use this and some people write the letters down so they don't forget letters and words.

If they cannot point with one finger they could make a fist and point with one part of their hand. The drawback of this is people could assume that the pointer pointing with another part of the hand. The pointer may want to adjust to different styles of pointing.

When people see letters on a tray some people assume that they have to point to the letters themselves. This is fine if you cannot hear but it can be annoying otherwise. Having a note saying that others don't need to spell is a good idea.

Using technology to communicate

They could also use a computer or device to communicate. However some people cannot type so they could use eye tracking or a scanning system instead even though these methods are typically slower than regular typing.

Eye tracking occurs when a camera is used to track someone's eye to guess where a person is looking. This is typically quicker than scanning but some devices only function well in certain lighting conditions. Since this can be slower than regular typing chatting to another person can be time consuming and other people can be impatient.

Scanning occurs when a menu of letters appears on a screen and the person has to wait to select the right letter. This is very slow but it can work when eye tracking does not.

Devices usually can have phrases that can be quickly accessed. Many people use this for common phrases so they don't have to type those constantly.

When I have a meeting sometimes I would type everything that I intend to say beforehand but I hardly do this unless I'm the chairperson. There have been times when I have typed up a letter to my doctor to give him and this is useful if you need privacy.

If you want to approach a specific person you might want to have a script ready for them to listen to before you get their attention. The downside of this is they could leave the room before you finish typing so use your own judgment.

Another issue of using a communication device is that random people will read your screen without permission and/or read something and assuming that it is for them. People should only read communication devices unless they receive an indication to do so.

Tuning the volume can based on the situation can be difficult. Sometimes it can seem too loud or too quiet. If you are in a particular crowded place it may be too difficult for people to hear your communication device.

If you want to communicate with a specific business you can probably Email them or text them. Some people don't like Email from experience but it helps if you say that you cannot talk and need to communicate in this way. If you operate business and want more information on accessibility click here to read more about how you can make your business accessible.

It is worthwhile to have a natural sounding voice and quality speakers to minimize problems hearing your device, this is important when you go to places like restaurants. It can be good to have a person with you who can read what's on your communication device in case problems occur.

You have to be mindful of issues relating to ddiction and overuse. I am on the computer about 15 hours a day with small breaks for meals but this is my choice, though many people are addicted to their phones and I'm mostly working in this time. For reducing addiction issues I wouldn't recommend introducing technology to early and having a person relying solely on a device for communication.

What communication method would work best?

We can't answer that but can tell you that having several communication methods could work better than having one.

Devices can fail to work occasionally so having a technology based method and a method that doesn't use technology might be best. People that don't know a person with a communication impairment well might cope better when technology is utilized. One form of communication might be slower than the other.

A person with dyslexia will have serious problems reading a communication tray but using a device could be slower. I find that using different communication systems is worthwhile.

I primarily communicate over Email or text by using eye tracking with nine predicted words to choose from as I type. Most of my family can read my communication tray which mostly contains letters and numbers but since they sometimes struggle with it typing on the computer can be better. I try not to communicate electronically after 10PM to help avoid insomnia.

The key for effective communication is finding the systems that work for the individual.

Careers for people who cannot talk

You may be limited in what careers that you can do if you cannot talk. For example taking a job in a call centre probably won't be viable.

It's possible that you can do public speaking and stand up comedy, I have done both of these things myself. Click on the links to read about my experiences.

I find it difficult to engage in networking. It's possible that choosing a career that doesn't require networking would be worthwhile.

Thanks for reading

This page was originally published at 05/08/2018 23:33:58 UTC

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