Experiences of low intelligibility conversations on the phone.

Project: Internally funded project

Project Details


Over the last three decades the Social Model of disability has rapidly increased its impact on Speech and Language Therapy services in the UK [1]–[3]. According to the social model, disabled people experience a form of exclusion and oppression imposed on top of their impairment because social institutions and environment do not accommodate their needs and participation in society [4]. As a result there has been an increased research interest on the barriers to participation faced by individuals with communication needs [5], who comprise up to 20% of the UK population [6]. However, the majority of studies have focused on the challenges faced by people with a specific diagnosis [5]. Baylor et al. [5] argue that there is a need for interventions that focus on the ability of people to participate effectively in daily activities and that these interventions need to be informed by the experiences of people across diagnoses.
One type of environment that is not well-suited for people with low intelligibility due to a speech disorder is telephone communication. The last decades saw the emergence of phone-based customer services as the main way for organisations to engage with clients, and during the COVID-19 pandemic many in-person appointments were permanently replaced with telephone and online triage and consultations [7], [8]. Currently, there is little research available on the experiences of people with low intelligibility speech using with telephone communication; and ways to improve accessibility.
This project aims to address the under-researched topic of telephone communication barriers and strategies for adults with low intelligibility due to a speech disorder when using telephone-based customer-services. The topic will be addressed by:
- Exploring the experiences, priorities, and communication strategies of adults with low intelligibility speech due to a speech disorder;
- Exploring the policies and practices of organisations that provide phone-based services and the experiences and strategies of employees and managers working for these call centres.
Both explorations will be carried out using a series of interviews.
[1] L. Jordan and K. Bryan, ‘Seeing the Person? Disability Theories and Speech and Language Therapy’, Int. J. Lang. Commun. Disord., vol. 36, no. S1, pp. 453–458, 2001, doi: 10.3109/13682820109177928.
[2] K. Bailey, S. J. Harris, and S. Simpson, ‘Stammering and the Social Model of Disability: Challenge and Opportunity’, Procedia - Soc. Behav. Sci., vol. 193, pp. 13–24, Jun. 2015, doi: 10.1016/j.sbspro.2015.03.240.
[3] D. Money et al., Inclusive Communication and the Role of Speech and Language Therapy Royal College of Speech and Language Therapists Position Paper. London: Royal College of Speech and Language Therapists, 2016. [Online]. Available: https://www.rcslt.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/02/20162209_InclusiveComms_final.pdf
[4] D. Anastasiou and J. M. Kauffman, ‘The Social Model of Disability: Dichotomy between Impairment and Disability’, J. Med. Philos. Forum Bioeth. Philos. Med., vol. 38, no. 4, pp. 441–459, Aug. 2013, doi: 10.1093/jmp/jht026.
[5] C. Baylor, M. Burns, T. Eadie, D. Britton, and K. Yorkston, ‘A Qualitative Study of Interference With Communicative Participation Across Communication Disorders in Adults’, Am. J. Speech Lang. Pathol., vol. 20, no. 4, pp. 269–287, Nov. 2011, doi: 10.1044/1058-0360(2011/10-0084).
[6] Royal College of Speech and Language Therapy, ‘Communication access UK’, RCSLT, 2022. https://www.rcslt.org/policy/communication-access-uk/ (accessed Oct. 06, 2022).
[7] V. Sivarajasingam, ‘Total triage is the future for general practice’, BMJ, vol. 373, p. n1532, Jun. 2021, doi: 10.1136/bmj.n1532.
[8] NHS England, The NHS Long Term Plan. 2019.
[9] IBIS World, ‘Call Centres in the UK, Number of businesses 2011-2029’, 2022. https://www.ibisworld.com/default.aspx (accessed Nov. 16, 2022).
[10] Call Centre Helper, ‘Top 50 Largest Contact Centres in the UK’, Call Centre Helper, 2022. https://www.callcentrehelper.com/top-50-largest-contact-centres-in-the-uk-51671.htm (accessed Nov. 16, 2022).
Effective start/end date28/08/2230/08/24


  • adult acquired speech disorders
  • lived experiences
  • telephone communication
  • disability


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