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Testifying in court: Vocabulary required by illiterate individuals with complex communication needs

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Violence against people with disabilities, in particular those with complex communication needs(CCN), tend to be more severe, consists of multiple different forms and appears to have longer duration. One way of reducing the risk of remaining a victim of crime is to face the alleged perpetrator in court as a witness – therefore it is important for a person with CCN who has been a victim of crime, and the service providers who have to assist these individuals such as the intermediaries, to have the required vocabulary to testify in court. The aim of this study was to identify and describe the legal vocabulary required by illiterate victims of crime, who have little or no functional speech, to testify in court as witnesses.A two-phase mixed-method, exploratory sequential design was used to address this aim. The first phase was of a qualitative nature with an overall aim to identify and describe legal vocabulary list and to develop a measurement instrument based on these results. Results from Phase 1 were used in Phase 2, the quantitative phase, during which the measurement instrument was socially validated by 31 stakeholders with relevant experience. The results produced six distinct vocabulary categories and 99 words. The findings suggested that communication boards should contain the universal categories, but also be individualized to the individual and the specific crime.It is believed that the vocabulary lists developed in this study act as a valid springboard for designing relevant communication boards and to train legal service providers can be given.


Robyn White    
Centre for Augmentative and Alternative Communication
South Africa

Juan Bornman    
Centre for Augmentative and Alternative Communication
South Africa

Ensa Johnson    
Centre for Augmentative and Alternative Communication
South Africa


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