Recognizing a client who may have a communication disability

When your client speaks, does he or she

  • Speak in a way that is hard for you to understand?
  • Use ways other than speech to communicate messages?
  • Have difficulty finding or saying the words he or she wants to communicate?

When you speak, does your client

  • Look confused, look away or defer to someone to answer for them?
  • Answer in ways that suggest they did not understand your question?
  • Tell you that he or she does not understand what you are saying?
Going to see a lawyer is stressful for everyone, therefore responses to these questions do NOT necessarily indicate the presence of a communication disability.

However, if there is a combination of communication issues, you and your client should take the time to investigate the reason(s).

Has your client informed you of a current or past medical diagnosis that may impact on his or her communication? For example intellectual disability, cerebral palsy, autism, traumatic brain injury, stroke, brain tumor, neck cancer, aphasia, dementia, Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis, Parkinson's Disease, Multiple Sclerosis, Huntington's Disease and other conditions.

Communication disabilities are not the same   

Some disabilities affect

  • Speaking
  • Understanding what someone is saying
  • Both speaking and understanding

Most people who have difficulty speaking do not have a problem understanding what others are saying.

Some people with communication disabilities may have challenges with reading and writing.

Communication disabilities can be

  • Mild or severe
  • Hidden or obvious
Hidden communication disabilities may result from previous injuries, concussions or early dementia. They may be subtle yet have a significant impact on a person's ability to process information and problem solve within a legal context.

People communicate in different ways   

People with communication disabilities may communicate using ways other than speech. These include gestures, body language, vocalizations, pictures, symbols, letter boards and speech generating devices.