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Supporting those with communication disability in long-term care settings – the impact of training and conversational support tools. THIS OFFER IS NOW CLOSED

Vice-Chancellor PhD Scholarship



This project seeks to understand the perspectives of staff working in long-term care settings with people who have communication disabilities. The focus will be on exploring staff engagement with aided communication strategies and establishing ways to improve the quality of communication, and therefore quality of life experiences of those living in long-term care settings.

Aims and objectives


In 2015 there were an estimated 62,751 residents living in long-term care (LTC) (ONS, 2016). On admission to LTC individuals are likely to encounter difficulties adapting and experience loss of quality of life (QoL). Specifically, for those with acquired communication impairment opportunities for interaction and participation can be extremely limited. Acquired communication impairment may be the consequence of injury, stroke, degenerative disease or cancer. Augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) can assist and aid communication success. AAC impact remains poorly documented as a means of increasing QoL experiences.

There is often a high staff turnover within LTC settings. These settings are busy environments in which staff are under pressure to meet health and physical needs and so they may not view communication as a priority need. Unsuccessful communication between care staff and clients may lead to distress and lack of dignity for clients (Hemsley et al. 2105). Whilst many residents rely on LTC staff as their primary source of social support, the presence of a communication partner and the availability of AAC tools is not always sufficient for effective communication. Successful augmented interactions depend substantially on communication partner proficiency. AAC device abandonment has been linked to the lack of communication partner support and knowledge in residential settings (Martin & Murray, 2010, Communication Matters, 2013). This in turn may be attributed to insufficiency or ineffectiveness of training opportunities for staff who are primary communication partners (Smith & Murray, 2011, Communication Matters, 2013). Taking into consideration the aforementioned factors, it is therefore essential to develop efficient and effective training that engages staff, highlights the functionality of AAC systems and motivates change in interaction styles (Murray et al, 2013).

The aim of this project is to explore the potential need to support (LT) care staff to better support people with communication disability.

The objectives of the project are to:

  1. Explore the barriers and facilitators that impact upon care staff in terms of their understanding of the nuances of communication disability in life-long, acquired and degenerative conditions requiring long-term care,
  2. Understand and establish the factors that influence effective support for people with long-term communication disability,
  3. Explore and identify the key contents of local training programmes to better support staff to enable those with long-term communication disability to receive accepted/expected quality of life opportunities.

Research questions may include:

The doctoral study could investigate three key research questions in order to meet the aims and objectives of the project. The detail of these questions will be negotiated with the successful candidate:

  1. What are the barriers and facilitators influencing staff’s understanding of communication disability in long-term care settings?
  2. What factors of communication support are considered important by participants and how do these impact on the experiences of those with long-term communication disability living in care?
  3. What communication disability training needs are identified by staff working in long-term care settings?


Communication Matters (UK) Commissioned report. (2013). Shining a Light on Augmentative and Alternative Communication: Communication Matters: Research Matters – An AAC evidence database (document available )

Hemsley, B., Werninck, M., & Worrall, L. (2015). “That really shouldn't have happened”: People with aphasia and their spouses narrate adverse events in hospital. Aphasiology, 27(6), 706-722.

Martin, A., & Murray, J. (2010). It’s never too late to learn: picture-think. Communication Matters Journal, 26(1), 5-10.

Murray, J., Martin, A., Pennington, L., Marshall, J., Enderby, P., & Goldbart, J. (2013). A case study template to support experimental design in Augmentative and Alternative Communication and Assistive technology. Disability & Rehabilitation: Assistive Technology, 9(1), 60-69.

Smith, M., & Murray, J. (2011). Parachute without a ripcord: the skydive of communication interaction. Journal of Augmentative and Alternative Communication, 27(4), 292-303. 

Specific requirements of the project

As a minimum applicants must have, or be working towards, a good undergraduate degree in speech and language therapy or psychology (IIi or 1st class). Applications from June 2017 graduates are welcomed.

Applicants must have knowledge and skills in qualitative methodologies, including data collection and analysis (e.g. focus groups, semi-structured interviewing, Thematic Framework Analysis). Knowledge of analysis packages, e.g. NVivo would be welcome but is not a requirement as the studentship will provide relevant training opportunities.

It is desirable that applicants have knowledge of types of communication disability and long-term care settings. Experience of, and associated skills in, interactions with people who have a communication disability are essential.

Travel throughout the UK may be required during data collection.

The project start date is expected to be September 2017

Student eligibility

The Scholarship is open to UK and EU students.


Informal enquiries can be made to:

Cate Lawton,

The supervisory team for this project will be Prof Janice Murray, Dr Jennifer Read, Dr John Lancaster. Specific queries regarding the research project will be forwarded to the supervisory team for response.

How to apply

Please quote the reference: VC-HPSC-JM-2017-2 .

Applications should be completed using the Postgraduate Research Degree Application Form.

Application Form should be emailed to:


Closing date

Research Study