Physical Disabilities

PART 4 - Physical Disabilities

Communication Disorders


Communication disorders, also known as speech impairments, range from problems with articulation or voice strength to the inability to speak. They may be the primary disability, as in the case of stuttering, or the result of a disability, such as stroke or cerebral palsy, that has other effects. In some people, the speech impairment is the result of problems in forming or producing sounds; in others, the problem may be in evoking or retrieving language.

Stuttering causes a repetition of sounds, prolongations of words, or blocks in speech. Aphasia can result in difficulty finding the appropriate word for a given thought or situation. A laryngectomy causes an individual to produce esophageal speech. Deaf and hard-of-hearing students can have difficulty producing clear speech. Other speech differences are hoarse, soft, or inaudible speech.

Persons with speech impairments sometimes have experiences being treated as if they are inebriated, mentally ill, or emotionally impaired. It is important to recognize that intelligence, alertness, and emotional stability are independent of speech ability for most persons with speech disorders.


Interaction with Students

  • In many cases, repeated exposure to an individual’s speech pattern improves your ability to understand it.
  • Patience and encouragement convey an attitude of acceptance. This may reduce the discomfort a student has in communicating and increase the student’s confidence and willingness to speak.
  • If it is difficult to understand something, request that the person repeat it. You may also summarize the message to check whether you understand. If necessary, write or use computers to communicate, or request that the person state the idea differently.
  • Resist the urge to quickly interrupt and try to complete the person’s train of thought.
  • Give the person the benefit of your patience and effort. After this, if it seems warranted, a supportive prompt may be helpful.
  • For persons unable to speak, various communication aids are available. They range from simple boards where the individual points to words, letters, or symbols to sophisticated portable computer systems that use speech synthesis to produce audible communication.
  • Respect the student’s efforts, and encourage others to do so.
  • A California speech-to-speech telephone service facilitates calls for persons with speech impairments. Trained operators voice for persons who have difficulty being understood on the telephone by repeating their words. To use this free service, dial 1 (800) 854-7784 and give the operator the phone number you wish to be connected to.


Classroom Strategies

  • Students with speech impairments should be free to participate in class as other students do, but pressure to perform orally should be avoided.
  • Discuss the student’s preference if oral presentations are part of the class. Some students prefer to make the presentation in a private setting or to have another person voice their presentation.
  • Some students feel that informing classmates about the speech impairment will make participating in class more comfortable. Discuss if and how the student wishes this done.


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Last Updated: 6/13/17