Introduction: Communication Board for Individuals With Disabilities

About: The Center for International Rehabilitation (CIR) is a not-for-profit organization that works in underserved and conflict-affected regions worldwide to meet the needs of people with disabilities. The CIR meets…

The inability to speak or express oneself can be frustrating and can produce a serious barrier in a patient-physician relationship. This simple and low-cost device allows individuals with disabilities to communicate with care givers and service providers. Not limited to use in rehabilitative services, the Communication Board could also be utilized in nursing homes and intensive care units to allow individuals with disabilities that impair their ability to speak or otherwise communicate to express their needs. This simple device can be utilized even by individuals who have been equipped with high-tech electronic communication systems as it allows for communication of one’s needs during bathing and other hygiene activities when it is not possible to use the high-tech device.


The Communication Board was developed by the Center for International Rehabilitation’s (CIR) Yeongchi Wu, MD in the early 1980s while he was working at the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago (RIC). Dr. Wu experienced some difficulty communicating with a patient who had sustained a brain stem infarction with resulting quadriplegia. Please see the following for more information: Wu, Y, Voda, J:  A User Friendly Communication Board for Nonverbal, Severely Disabled Individuals.  Arch Phys. Med. & Rehabil., 66:827-828, 1985.

Step 1: Items Needed

1.     Sheet of paper

2.     Pen or other writing utensil

3.     Straight-edge or ruler

4.     Scissors (optional)

The Communication Board can be drawn by hand using the items listed above, or can be created on a computer using either a spreadsheet program (Excel or similar) or photo editing software (Photoshop, G.I.M.P., or similar) and printed out. The Communication Board is available for download here either as a PDF or an Excel file.

Step 2: Create a Grid

The Communication Board consists of 36 squares arranged in a 6 x 6 matrix.  Using a straight-edge or ruler, create a 6 x 6 grid on a sheet of paper. For better clarity when using the Communication Board, it may be helpful to make the lines separating the rows darker than those separating the columns.

The edge around the 6 x 6 grid can be trimmed off using scissors if desired.

Step 3: Fill in Letters

The alphabet is arranged according to the normal sequence so that each row begins with a vowel. Fill in the letters in the manner illustrated. For ease of use, capital letters are used for the vowels, and lower case for the consonants.

Step 4: Numbers or Messages

The remaining 10 spaces (four in the upper right corner and 6 along the bottom row) can be filled with 10 numbers, with items that a patient may wish to communicate frequently, or which may be applicable to their particular needs.

Step 5: To Use the Communication Board

a.     The care giver slowly names the vowels until the patient indicates that the row contains the letter they wish to select.

b.     The care giver then repeats the vowel and each letter in the row until the patient indicates that the desired letter has been named.

c.      The care giver and patient continue in this fashion until the message has been spelled out or can be deduced.

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