From conversation starters in the front yard to talking to God: the sensory ethnography of communication access

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Aims: The nature and quality of communication access in the home can vary considerably depending upon such things as where one lives, social affiliations, and access to technology. Using findings from an in-depth study of the meaning of home for people with severe communication impairment the study sought to investigate features of communication access. Method: Data obtained from sensory ethnographic journal entries, interview, and video field notes were collected to create a communication inventory. Specific communication themes were identified and coded for frequency and intensity and then analysed with participant home type (independent living, living with immediate family, or living in a group home). Results: Findings across the three types of dwellings suggest a relationship between home type and communication access. Conclusions: With communication being an integral element of rehabilitation, issues of communication access hold implications for both service delivery and research practice across the field of rehabilitation. The contribution of sensory ethnography and its potential use in rehabilitation was also a significant outcome of the study.Implications for rehabilitation Communication is an important element of rehabilitation but despite the epidemiology of communication disorders among service recipient, it has not received adequate attention from across the field of rehabilitation. This study highlights how environmental factors can greatly shape communication access for many people with significant communication disability. By increasing awareness of communication access, practitioners and researchers of rehabilitation are invited to reflect upon and improve communication corridors; ultimately leading to better health outcomes. The study successfully combines it with the innovations of sensory ethnography with strong potential for development across rehabilitation. In challenging the notion of augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) as belonging to speech pathology, the study contributes to arguments for increased capacity building and interdisciplinary practice across all of rehabilitation.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)3264-3270
Number of pages7
JournalDisability and Rehabilitation
Issue number22
Early online date27 Feb 2020
Publication statusPublished - 2021


  • Augmentative and alternative communication
  • communication access
  • home
  • inclusive research
  • interdisciplinary capacity building
  • sensory ethnography


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