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As face coverings become the norm in the current COVID-19 climate, communication between people is becoming increasingly challenging – and – for approximately 14 million people, who have additional communication needs, it is even tougher. Today (12 November 2020), a new disability symbol, designed to make life easier for millions of people in the UK, will be launched.  

The Communication Access Symbol, with underpinning training and standards, has been created for businesses, organisations and consumers by the Royal College of Speech and Language Therapists (RCSLT) in partnership with the Stroke Association, Headway, MND Association, Disability Rights UK, Business Disability Forum, Communication Matters, The Makaton Charity, and the National Network of Parent Carer Forums. The partnership is known as Communication Access UK. 

In the UK, Scotland currently leads the race in becoming an accessible communication nation, having already introduced inclusive communication legislation to its new social security agency and consumer rights body. Now, with the arrival of the Communication Access Symbol, businesses and organisations across the entire UK will have the opportunity to embrace the cause of accessible communication. Those that take up free online training on accessible face-to-face, telephone and online customer service will earn the right to display the Communication Access Symbol – demonstrating they have all their customers’ needs close at heart. 

Nick Hewer, RCSLT President, says: “People who have communication difficulties often feel marginalised by society because their needs can be hidden in a way that other disabilities are not. If they receive poor customer service as a result of businesses not understanding how to support their needs – whether it’s a bank, building society, gym, hotel, pub, restaurant, or shop, they are likely to feel twice as frustrated as the average person and with good reason. 

“Achieving the Communication Access UK standards and displaying the symbol will be a great way for organisations to show they value all their customers by being keen and able to communicate inclusively with people who currently have difficulties accessing their services. It’s a lifeline for millions of people.” 

Several UK businesses and organisations have already taken the Communication Access training including Skipton Building Society, University of Leeds, Health Education and Improvement Wales, and ISP Fostering

David Cutter, Group Chief Executive of Skipton, says: “Communication is key for any organisation. We rely on communication with our customers and our colleagues. They are the key to success – which is why it's incredibly important to ensure that all our people are able to communicate effectively together and ensure that we continue to create a society where nobody is left out. 

“We constantly review how we can ensure that we can still be there for these customers, offering the essential services whilst providing the best experience for them. This is why we took part in the early adopters’ programme and are proud to be the first financial provider to sign up to the programme. Over the next 12 months we aim to roll this out across all our customer facing teams from the branch networks to head office.”

Mark Chappell from Ilkley in West Yorkshire has aphasia due to a stroke. Although he can talk, he has difficulty finding words and names as well as reading, writing and processing information.

He says: “Most conversations are so fast that it’s often easier to keep quiet in company as I can’t keep up. One-to-one conversations are easier if the other person allows me time to think and speak. Social situations are very difficult and tiring. In shops, there is too much information and too many signs for my brain to process. In restaurants and cafes, I can’t understand menus with their small print and there are too many choices. I rely on my wife to read them for me.” 

“The Communication Access Symbol would give me more confidence to go to a shop as I know staff would understand my communication problems. If restaurants and cafes were also to invest in easy to read menus and price lists with pictures it would encourage me to use their premises.”  

Ahead of today’s launch, the RCSLT’s President, Nick Hewer, and Chief Executive, Kamini Gadhok MBE, interviewed business leaders about the Communication Access Symbol and asked them what difference it would make to their industries and customers. The business panel comprised: 

The interview with industry experts will be available to view on 12 November by visiting: www.communication-access.co.uk and organisations that are interested in taking the Communication Access UK training can also find out more via the website. 

For further information or to arrange an interview, please contact:
Josephine Olley – Email: josephine.olley@rcslt.org / Mobile: 07710 707183 or
Georgia Haire – Email: georgia.haire@rcslt.org / Mobile: 07834 728679.

Notes to editors

  • Communication disability in the UK affects millions of people. Up to 20% of the UK’s population experience communication difficulty at some point in their lives, and more than 10% (1.4 million) of all children have a long-term communication need.
  • Communication is not just the ability to speak but also the ability to hear and understand what is said to us. It lies at the very core of human dignity. The impact of communication difficulties and disabilities is varied; some people may find it hard to ask a question, name an object or ask for help, while others may have speech difficulties that make them difficult to understand. Others may have problems processing information and difficulties with reading and writing. Some may use communication devices and require time to create their message. Communication disabilities leave millions without a voice, denying them equality of access and opportunity.
  • COVID-19 is also impacting on people’s abilities to communicate. If a person is hospitalised due to Coronavirus and placed on a ventilator, or given a tracheostomy, they often won’t be able to speak afterwards. They may need speech and language therapy rehabilitation to help them regain their voice.