Emergency Communication4ALL1, 2

Boardmaker symbols for Emergency, Communicate, and We

Diane Nelson Bryen, Ph.D.
Temple University


Times of natural or man-made disasters are stressful for everyone. These times are even more difficult for people who may have difficulty communicating. They may not be able to understand what you are saying or they may not be able to tell you what they need.

The Emergency Communication 4 ALL communication aids can be used with a variety of people who you may encounter during times of emergency. They may include:

  1. People whose spoken language may not be effective for communication, but who can understand all or most of what you say.
  2. People who may have some difficulty understanding your spoken communication.
  3. People who may not understand or speak English well.
  4. People who have hearing difficulties.

Using one of the communication aids, these individuals may be able to better understand you and get their message across more effectively.

Tips for Emergency Response Personnel Interacting with Someone Who Needs Communication Assistance

  1. Begin by identifying basic communication methods (pay attention to pointing, gestures, nods, sounds, eye gaze and eye blinks)
    • Take time to listen carefully.
    • Give the person extra time to respond.
    • Always repeat the person's actions and/or what they tell you to confirm that you have understood.
    • Say, "Show me how you say YES."
    • Say, "Show me how you say NO."
    • Ask questions one at a time and ask questions that can easily be answered with a YES or NO response.
    • Say, "Show me how you point to something or someone you want."
  2. After communication methods have been identified, ask a few basic questions.
    • "Is there someone here who can help me communicate with you?"
    • "Do you have a communication board, communication book, or a speech generating device?"
    • "Did you bring it with you?" If they indicate YES, ask them where it is and help them retrieve it. If they indicate NO, show them the 2 Emergency Communication 4 All downloadable communication aids and ask them which one they want to use. Remember to ask simple questions that can be answered with a YES or NO.

NOTE: When using this or other communication aids, if someone is unable to point because of their disability, a communication partner or assistant can point to their communication aid for them (e.g., point to a picture, word, or letter on their board) and ask "Is this the picture (or word or letter) that you want?" Then wait for a YES or NO response. Always confirm your understanding of the choice made before going on. For a video demonstration of this approach, click on this link

For more information and helpful communication tips, go to

1. Special thanks to the contributions made by Rachel Ravitch, Research Assistant at the Institute on Disabilities and Pamela Kennedy, AAC-RERC Writers Brigade & United States Society for Augmentative and Alternative Communication.

2. This work was supported by a grant from the National Institute on Disabilities and Rehabilitation Research#H133E0330018.