Key Word Sign: Embracing Diversity in Communication

Key Word Sign: Embracing Diversity in Communication

Communication is the foundation of interaction: allowing us to express our thoughts, feelings and needs.
Whilst spoken language is often the first thing that comes to mind when we think about communication, it is essential that we recognize communication comes in many forms. As Speech Pathologists, we are well versed in the benefits of alternative and augmented (supplementary) forms of communication, such as communication devices, communication books, visuals and Key Word Sign.

With the recent introduction of various forms of Key Word Sign being introduced in an increasing number of daycares, I, for one, am incredibly excited to witness this mainstream adoption of alternative means of communication.

So, I wanted to break down what Key Word Sign is and how to use it.


What is Key Word Sign?

Key word Sign is a visual communication system involving gestures, and plays a crucial role in bridging communication barriers for individuals with speech, hearing or language difficulties. Key Word Sign is used in conjunction with verbal communication, so, while it uses the same signs as sign language, it is often easier to learn. We use Key Word Sign to help emphasize key information as we talk.


Acknowledging and Embracing Cultural differences

Just as spoken language differs from country to country, sign language contains distinctive variations that cater to the diverse linguistic and cultural background of individuals. American Sign Language (ASL), British Sign Language (BSL) and Australian Sign Language (Auslan) incorporates region specific signs and gestures, which differ depending on where you are.  For instance, a particular hand gesture may represent one concept in one country, but may mean something entirely different in another.

Key Word Sign is based on the foundation that signs and gestures can have varying meanings across different cultures and have been carefully developed to include the cultural context of their specific region, considering words and concepts used in daily life, allowing users to express themselves in relevant, appropriate manner.

By recognizing and respecting these variations, we can create a more inclusive world where everyone has a voice. Let us celebrate the rich diversity in our community and continue to work together to break down communication barriers.


Some Auslan Key Word Sign we use daily at Early Start:


Useful Resources:

Key Word Sign Australia ( – This website provides information on the history of Key Word Sign and links to resources and courses.

Signbank (   Use this to search for video demonstrations of how to sign specific words in Auslan

Getting Started with Key Word Sign (Auslan Edition): by Teena Caithness, Elizabeth Brownlie and Karen Bloomberg

By Esther Duffy