Speech Pathology

Speech pathology scope of practice

What Speech Pathologists do for patients, and how Speech Pathology students are making a difference in rural Victoria

What is a Speech Pathologist?

Speech Pathologists work with people with communication and swallowing problems, determining the best therapy or tools for their difficulties.

Communication problems include difficulties with speech, language, swallowing, stuttering or voice.

Why do people have communication and swallowing problems?

There are a variety of reasons, but some examples include:

  • developmental delays
  • stroke
  • brain injuries
  • learning disability
  • intellectual disability
  • cerebral palsy
  • dementia
  • hearing problems

Communication Bill of Rights © Scope (Aust) Ltd: http://www.scopeaust.org.au

Everyone has the right to be communicated with in a way that is right for them, to learn, and to be understood. Speech pathologists help people to do this.

Where do Speech Pathologists work?

Speech Pathologists work in a variety of settings, including:

  • schools
  • hospitals
  • aged care homes
  • universities
  • rehabilitation centres
  • community health centres
  • private practice
  • mental health services

There are over 1.2 million people in Australia with communication disability. The majority of these are older people, though profound communication disability is much more common in children. Those with communication disability are less likely to have higher education qualifications and participate in the workforce. Half of those with a need for formal assistance with communication are not receiving it, and 60% of these are children (Australian Bureau of Statistics, 2015).

Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC)

AAC are ways to communicate when a person 

  • cannot speak
  • is hard to understand
  • finds it hard to understand other people

In these cases, Speech Pathologists may utilise means such as objects, picture boards or books, spelling boards, speech devices, computers, mobile phones or computer tablets in order to help individuals to communicate effectively.

People may also use their own bodies to communicate – their eyes, face, body language, and gestures and signing.

The 23rd of September is International Day of Sign Languages. For more information about Auslan, the Australian Sign Language, see the Auslan website  or Key Word Sign Australia.


Speech Pathology Students Making a Difference in Rural Areas

Going Rural Health was approached by a rural service provider who wanted the team to develop a student led placement model in order to review their current training materials for staff and volunteers, to support communication access for their users. Students responded to an Expression of Interest for this unique placement experience, and were chosen based on a number of key selection criteria, which included the demonstration of a genuine interest in working with people with a disability. Initially planned to be an on-site placement with an adaptive sport service provider for people with disabilities, this placement and associated deliverables were adapted to accommodate an online placement model due to COVID-19 and associated restrictions.

We are currently supporting 2 x 1st year  Masters of Speech Pathology (SP) students for their 2 day a week, five week novice placement. These students are being provided with the opportunity to apply their theoretical knowledge by working with the service provider and their end users (including people with communication impairments and/or their carers) to identify if  SP intervention was required to enhance communication access. Preliminary assessment results completed within  this student led model suggested that intervention was required and work is currently in progress to review new staff and volunteer training materials to include educational material regarding communication disabilities and strategies to support communication every day. Students have considered the sustainability of the project by pivoting their intervention to address the education of staff and volunteers, and will identify any recommendations to further enhance the communication for people with communication disabilities accessing this service in their discharge process. It is anticipated that additional SP student led initiatives and/or existing community based services will be explored to continue this work.


Speech Pathology Australia resources: available here.

The Australian Bureau of Statistics – Communication disability 2015: available here.

Bill of Rights © Scope (Aust) Ltd: http://www.scopeaust.org.au

Rebecca Oates

Associate Lecturer, Rural Health Community Placements

Speech Pathologist

Going Rural Health Wangaratta