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Resources for communicating with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples


Resources for written communications suitable for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples


Additional Communication Resources


Communicating with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples

 Students need to develop appropriate and competent communication skills for working with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. They need to

  • be aware of differences in verbal and non-verbal communication
  • appreciate the variations in linguistic and cultural aspects of interactions
  • recognise miscommunication
  • understand the serious consequences of communication breakdown

These skills and understanding will require time and experience to develop. However, a number of valuable resources can support students as they develop their communicative competence:


Indigenous Allied Health Australia 

Indigenous Allied Health Australia (IAHA) provides a variety of resources that can be useful for allied health staff who work with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, including resources that focus on appropriate communication skills.

Queensland Health Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Branch

Queensland Health Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Division provides a variety of information and resources for health professionals who are working with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and is guided by the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Cultural Capability framework.  Guidelines for effective communication can be found at this link.

Edith Cowan University 

Creating cultural empathy and challenging attitudes through Indigenous narratives was developed to engage students with authentic stories of Indigenous people’s experience of healthcare, both positive and negative, to promote deep and lasting empathy. It includes a collection of 41 multimedia Indigenous stories and four scenarios and accompanying Educator guides. The online resource requires registration to access but is free. The four scenarios are particularly useful and address the following issues:

  • Communication - Taking time to talk to patients and finding out about the whole person, their family and community. Explaining medical terms in plain language. 
  • Passing on - Paying respect to dying relatives.
  • Drunken stereotypes - Stereotypes and racist assumptions lead to limited treatment or a lack of services
  • Stolen - Experiences of the Stolen Generation

Royal Australian College of General Practitioners

'An Introduction to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health, cultural protocols and perspectives' was developed to provide background information and guidance on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander perspectives, along with an understanding of important protocols and other relevant cultural issues. Three useful chapters in this resource suggest appropriate communication and interaction guidelines:

  • Culturally appropriate communication (p.28)
  • Consulting with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities (p.38)
  • Conducting meetings with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander organisations and groups (p.42)

Sharing the True Stories - improving communication in Indigenous Health Care

Cooperative Research Centre for Aboriginal Health

Sharing the True Stories:  improving communication in Indigenous health care aims to develop a more informed understanding of intercultural communication to facilitate improved health outcomes for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. The resource includes video clips of communicative interactions to demonstrate the guidelines and strategies suggested. It has three main sections:

  • About (mis)communication
  • Communication Challenges - What are the barriers to effective communication?
  • Guidelines and Strategies for improving communication practice in health care


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Written Communication

Students also need to develop effective written communication that is appropriately adapted for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. Allowing students to spend some time reading reports and letters you have written is important. It might also be useful to provide them with some simple guidelines.

For example, the University of Queensland Interprofesssional Occupational Therapy and Speech Pathology Clinic at the Murri School in Brisbane provides students with Documentation Guidelines :

Documentation Guidelines

Writing professional documentation for different audiences is a clinical skill. All health professionals need to learn to effectively communicate with their clients and colleagues. We write reports in positive language and use simple words and phrases in conversational language so it is much less formal than other reports you may write. However, documentation still needs to be professional, specific and measurable.

Positive language: Where possible, use “needs support with” or “is still learning how to…” rather than “has difficulty with”. This is especially true for the whole class skill development program. In the targeted therapy sessions for children with known difficulties, you may need to use the language of “difficulty with”.

Simple informal language: use the following substitutions:

Traditional word we might use

Words that are less formal









Developing skills with.....

Learning to .......



Performance improves when .....

Does his best when .......

Participate/Contribute to ....

Join in with.......

Specific and Measurable: Avoid using “poor”, “fine” or “good” as these are subjective terms which we can’t measure. Instead, describe the child’s performance - what they could or could not do. When writing the final report, make sure you use examples to illustrate the “cut and paste” statements where relevant. These examples need to be child-specific and drawn from your progress notes or other observations so it is important that you record this information throughout the program. If you make a statement that a client is ‘sometimes able to ....’ or ‘not able to ......’, then you need to note what the client does in these instances.

All client related assessments, progress notes and reports are legal documents.

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Additional Communication Resources

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children’s language development and use

Education Queensland’s Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Language Statement provides the basis to assist Queensland educators and school communities to support the languages and cultures of their Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students within the school context.

'My Language Matters' is a useful audiovisual resource that aims to provide  understanding that many Indigenous students are ‘invisible’ language learners and outlines the processes required to ensure that every Indigenous student is provided the support they need to access the curriculum.

Resources for Speech Pathologists

A number of speech, language and hearing resources specifically relevant for speech pathology students working with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples are provided here.


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