Every voice counts: exploring communication accessible research methods

Betty Jean M. Dee-Price, Lorna Hallahan, Diane Nelson Bryen, Joanne M. Watson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

23 Citations (Scopus)


Despite a proliferation of qualitative research methods and the advancement of augmentative and alternative communication (AAC), people with Complex Communication (Access) Needs (CCAN) are often absent from sociological study cohorts. Proxy interviewing is common but it leaves viewpoints to be shaped by others. Herein the purpose of the study was to develop and test new methods of data collection that would improve access to research participation for people with CCAN. This article reports on the development, implementation and evaluation findings of four data collection techniques. These methods, ‘theory generated photo elicitation’ ‘adapted image selection’ ‘participant sensory selection’ and ‘sensory ethnography’ were tested and implemented in a study of people with CCAN. The study contributes to the knowledge of communication accessible research participation with applicable to disability-based qualitative research across multiple fields. Points of interest Due to a range of barriers, such as gaps in awareness and research guidelines, people with communication disability are grossly underrepresented in qualitative study cohorts. In this investigation, normative notions of communication competence were challenged. This included the term complex communication needs often used to describe someone who is without the use of speech. However, based on the evidence of communication access as being just as significant as other forms such as ramps and curb cuts, the phrase complex communication ‘access’ needs (CCAN) was used to propel the study in a social model direction. Drawing upon experimental research, the study explored, adapted and tested a range of methods. These were combined with various tools and devices used to support communication and were aligned with investigative themes. Photographs of hands in various postures, reflective of quality of life themes were particularly useful in discovering meaning from participants, as was the adaptation of Talking Mats

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)240-264
Number of pages25
JournalDisability and Society
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 2021


  • augmentative and alternative communication
  • communication access
  • complex communication needs
  • ethnography
  • qualitatitve research methods


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