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Social Exclusion by Retailers of People with Complex Communication Needs


People with complex communication needs are frequently excluded from shopping independently by communication access barriers in the retail industry. In this pilot study, seven participants with CCN who use augmentative and alternative communication devices were interviewed about their perceptions of accessible communication and inclusion by retailers. Nine participants who provided retail customer service were interviewed about their experiences communicating with people with disability. Interview data was analysed using grounded theory method. An ecological model of social inclusion was applied to categories in the data to identify whether personal, organisational and structural conditions contributed to social exclusion. Recommendations for improvement in communication access included stronger communication between government and the retail industry about their responsibilities to people with complex communication needs, increased co-operative approaches, involving people with complex communication needs, training about communication access in the retail industry. This study forms a basis for further AAC research into social exclusion and the retail environment.

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Corresponding author

Correspondence to Susan Taylor.

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The authors report no declarations of interest

Ethical Approval

This study was performed in line with the principles of the Declaration of Helsinki. Approval was granted by the Ethics Committee of Deakin University on 17 August 2016, No. HEAG-H141_2016.

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Informed consent to participate and to publish their data was obtained from all individual participants included in the study.

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Appendix 1: Questions For In-Depth Interviews With Participants With Complex Communication Needs

This research will help me to understand your experiences as a customer in shops, retail services like banks or hairdressers, in food outlets and so on. I want to know about good and bad experiences you may have had as a customer. I also want to know how you feel about being a customer in those types of places, and what impact your experiences have on you, if any. The questions below will be used as a guide in the interview.

Paragraph below to be added according to the type of interview:

(Face to face interviews) I may follow up on your answers to questions, to get a better understanding of what you’re telling me. If I am doubtful about what you tell me I will repeat what I think you’re saying and ask you to agree or disagree. I will record your stories as you tell them to me. We will pause for breaks during the interview or stop the interview at any time you need.

(Email interviews) After we get started I will type in a question and then wait for you to type in your response. Your response can be as long as you wish. I may follow up on your answers to each question, to get a better understanding of what you’re telling me. In this way we will move progressively through the main questions as listed below. If you need a break in the interview you must let me know so that we can stop. We can start again whenever you are ready, and the interview can take as long as you wish, even over many days. If at any stage you don’t wish to continue with the interview we can stop immediately.

  • Shopping is one of the ways many people spend their time, not only in shops but in services like hairdressers, and in food outlets. Some people enjoy it and some people only shop when they have to. What is your approach to shopping?

  • I would like to know what it’s like for people who use AAC to get served in a shop. Or what happens when you need the help of a bank teller. Or how you tell your hairdresser what you need. Tell me, how do you communicate with retailers?

  • • I also want to know how you feel in the places where you do your shopping. Thinking about your communication, what good experiences can you think of that you have had as a customer? What do you think contributed to you feeling good?

  • Thinking again about your communication, what bad experiences have you had as a customer? I’m interested to know what happened, how you dealt with the situation, and why you remember it as a bad experience.

  • Have your experiences changed anything about the way you go shopping or use other retail services, or changed where you go, and how often? Why?

Appendix 2: Questions for Retailers

Interviews with customer service staff will help us to understand what issues arise when you provide a service to customers with disabilities.

  • What is your experience of communicating with customers with disabilities, for instance people in wheelchairs, people who can't speak or people with little or no vision? How does it feel?

  • What difficulties, if any, do you experience in communicating with customers with disabilities?

  • How would you adjust your communication to communicate with customers who can’t speak?

  • How have you changed the way you communicate with customers with disabilities, if at all?

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Taylor, S., Wilson, E., Murfitt, K. et al. Social Exclusion by Retailers of People with Complex Communication Needs. J Dev Phys Disabil 33, 909–930 (2021).

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  • Social exclusion
  • Complex communication needs
  • Retail
  • Shopping
  • Communication access
  • AAC