Skip to main content Skip to main menu

What are communication supports?

The Information and Communications Standards under the AODA states that organizations must provide information in accessible formats and communication supports. This requirement may leave people asking: what are communication supports?

What are Communication Supports?

Communication supports are ways for people who cannot access verbal or audio information to receive it visually or ways for people who are non-verbal to communicate with people who speak. For instance, people who do not understand verbal communication may:

  • Be deaf, deafened, or hard of hearing
  • Have a learning disability that affects how they understand verbal information

Sign Language

English-Canadians who are Deaf often use American Sign Language (ASL). ASL is a visual language. For instance, signers convey meaning through:

  • Handshapes
  • Movements
  • Facial expressions

ASL is a complete language with its own grammar.

Many people identify ASL as their first language and learn English as a second language. They may communicate with people who do not sign by speaking, gesturing, writing, emailing, or text messaging.

Furthermore, signers can also communicate with non-signers through Sign language interpretation.  A professionally trained interpreter relays information between signers and non-signers. Interpretation is available through organizations, such as Ontario Interpreter Services (OIS), for important, specialized, or prolonged communications, including:

  • Job interviews and training
  • Medical or legal settings

People usually arrange interpretation in advance of events. In addition, organizations that regularly host events like performances, tours, or lectures sometimes arrange for interpreters to be present at certain showings. The interpreter is often physically present. However, video relay service (VRS) technology now allows deaf and hearing people to connect to an interpreter remotely through the Internet.


Other people who are deaf communicate by speaking and follow the other side of the conversation by speechreading, once called lip reading. People who speechread understand speech through people’s facial movements and expressions, body language, and context. Speakers should ensure that speechreaders can see them clearly.

Captions and Text Transcripts

Captions are displays of text that reproduces or describes audio elements of videos, presentations, or performances. Video producers can caption content when they make it, or add captions later. People watching TV or movies with closed captions (CC) can turn them on and off. In contrast, audience members at live events with open captions cannot turn them off because they are part of the event. People attending smaller live events, such as meetings, may use Real-Time Captioning (RTC). A trained captioner records speech and it appears almost right away on a large screen. If RTC is not available for an event, a typist can summarize key points. This process is called computerized note-taking.

Assistive Listening Devices

Assistive listening devices transmit one speaker’s voice straight to a person’s ear and bypass background noise. People who are hard of hearing use them in group situations where they need to concentrate on one speaker or area, such as:

  • Classrooms
  • Performances, tours, or lectures

Many venues offer assistive listening devices on loan to people attending events.


People who are hard of hearing can use telephones with hearing aids, which amplify sounds, or with cochlear implants, prostheses in the inner ear that transmit sound directly to the brain, while others may use telephone amplifiers that interact with certain hearing aids to lower background noise and increase ringing and conversation volume.

Telephones can have lights or vibrations that signal when the telephone rings. Some people who are Deaf use TTYs (teletypewriters), devices carrying typed conversation over telephone lines. TTY users can contact someone who does not use TTY through a telephone relay operator. Others use video relay service (VRS) to communicate with signers or non-signers.

Texting and emails are also options that some people may prefer to use when communicating.

Communication Supports for People who are Non-Verbal

Several of these communication supports are also valuable for people who are non-verbal. In addition, these individuals may also use computers or other devices with speech output, word prediction, or word processing software. Some people may use Augmentative or Alternative Communication (AAC) devices, which allow users to communicate by typing or through pre-programmed words, phrases, or pictorial symbols. Others may use communication boards, which display letters, words, phrases, or symbols the user can point to.

More to Say

There are still not enough communication supports available for people to fully access all the information they need. Shortages of trained ASL interpreters, captioners, or note-takers mean that many people must carefully choose the times when they most need those supports and do without them at all other times. Some people may rely on loved ones, volunteers, or short-term workers who are not fully trained, to provide some of this information. However, incomplete training sometimes leads to people receiving incomplete or inaccurate information.

People who are non-verbal or do not understand audible information have many ways to enjoy and benefit from the spoken word. Technology continues to make new ways of communicating possible. However, more must be done to ensure that all information truly becomes accessible to everyone.