Busting common communication myths with Alix Lewer, CEO, Include 

It’s currently Disability History Month, which is running from 16th November – 16th December and this year’s theme is ‘Disability, Health and Wellbeing. As a result, we thought it was important to address how people living with a disability can struggle to access health and care services, resulting in health inequality. This is often due to additional communication needs.   

To help bridge this gap, we’re partnered with Include.org, the disability charity focused on breaking down barriers for people with communication needs. Alix Lewer, who is a speech and language therapist and Include’s founder, has been supporting CardMedic since day dot, very kindly volunteering her time and expertise to help us develop the content in the CardMedic library. 

Really, there’s no one better to learn from about communicating effectively and inclusively. Alix has shared some common misconceptions and myths about communication, and reveals how we can all become better, kinder communicators. 

By Alix Lewer 

 

Myth 1: Communication is just speaking and writing 

What comes to mind when you think about how you communicate with others? For a lot of us, we would say talking out loud, or writing things down. In reality, these types of communication can be very difficult for some people, and others may simply prefer to communicate by other means.  

A vast proportion of effective communication is in face or non-verbal, and includes: 

  • Body language
  • Gestures
  • Facial expressions
  • Tone of voice
  • Imagery and visual aids
  • Sign language
  • Augmented/assistive tech
  • Braille 

 

All of these methods can make a significant difference to the success of communication when it is delivered by the spoken or written word.

To be an inclusive communicator, it’s important to recognise, respect and use all forms of communication, and be mindful of which type could be best for every individual. Ignoring the different ways of communicating can be harmful to people with communication needs, and can exacerbate health inequalities, isolation and discrimination. We’ve been working with CardMedic to make its content is as accessible as possible, exploring multiple formats like sign language, Easy Read, Read Aloud and pictures. You can try out online courses to learn how to be a more inclusive communicator, or head to the Include.org site for a range of accredited or informal training. It’s so important, and I promise it can be fun, too!

 

Myth 2: Communication difficulties are rare

It’s a common misconception that communication barriers only affect a few people. In fact, up to 20% of the UK population will be affected by a cognitive communication difficulty at some of point in their lives. This could be due to a lifelong condition like autism or learning disabilities or due to an acquired neurological condition affecting speech or cognition, which could affect any one of us at any time. As such, it’s important that we equip ourselves with tools and knowledge to help us communicate in different ways and live in a more inclusive world.  

In healthcare, great steps are being taken to make it easier for more people to communicate with healthcare professionals. CardMedic is a brilliant example. The content in its library is available in multiple languages and formats, supporting inclusive communication for all patients in hospital. This empowers people who otherwise wouldn’t be able to understand or digest the information they’re receiving to ask questions and take part in shared decision making about their care and treatment.

 

Myth 3: It’s always difficult to overcome communication barriers 

While it isn’t always easy, it is by no means impossible to bridge communication gaps. In many instances, the most important thing to do is to be mindful about how you’re communicating, so you can be as inclusive as possible. 

And what I mean here is: be a good listener. It’s just as important to think about how you absorb what someone else is communicating to you, as it is to be thoughtful about how you communicate with others. Showing someone that you’re listening to them can help to build trust and for people who are often forced into silence, this couldn’t be more important. We’ve got more resources about being a good listener on the Include website. 

 

Myth 4: It’s not our responsibility to improve communication  

It can be easy to remove ourselves from any responsibility for making the world more inclusive. In fact, it’s on everyone to do what they can. It could be signposting to helpful resources such as TalkingMats,, learning some Makaton signs, getting in touch with speech and language therapists or being prepared to use alternative communication methods and tools. In healthcare, this could mean being open to using digital solutions like CardMedic and communicating with patients through the app. It might feel unusual to you, but it will be transformative for the patient who would otherwise have great difficulty understanding what’s happening to them.

 

Supporting underserved populations

The world works better for those who can interact with it in a conventional way. There are many people, more than 30% of the population, who can’t do this. We are, I hope, getting better at accommodating different needs, for example by installing wheelchair ramps into buildings, or creating reduced height countertops in people’s homes. However, when it comes to cognitive and learning difficulties, the world is far less equipped. As a result, it’s our responsibility to think about how we can make these people’s lives easier, so they can engage with life in the fullest way possible.  

Include have been an amazing partner of ours and are doing incredible work for some of the most underserved populations in the UK. They’ve been instrumental in our journey to providing inclusive healthcare communication and reducing health inequalities. If you’d like to and are able to support them, please head to their donation page! From 29th November to 6th December, any donation will be doubled as part of The Big Give. 

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