Communication Disability in Fiji: Community Cultural Beliefs and Attitudes

Suzanne Catherine Hopf, Sharynne Lindy McLeod, Sarah H McDonagh, Epenisa N Rakanace


Purpose: Beliefs about communication disability vary according to the cultural context, and influence people’s attitudes and help-seeking behaviour. Little is known about Fijians with communication disability or the communities in which they live, and specialist services for people with communication disability are yet to be established in Fiji. An understanding of Fijian beliefs about the causes of communication disability and attitudes towards people with communication disability may inform future service development.

Method: An interpretivist qualitative research paradigm and the International Classification of Functioning, Disability and Health (ICF) framework informed this project’s design. Scenarios of adults and children with communication disability were presented to 144 participants, randomly sampled across multiple public spaces in two Fiji cities. Thematic analysis of responses to 15 survey questions revealed participant beliefs about the causes and attitudes towards people with communication disability.

Results: Three clusters describing perceived causes emerged from the analysis - internal, external, and supernatural. Major clusters across child and adult scenarios were similar; however, response categories within the scenarios differed. Community attitudes to people with communication disability were predominantly negative. These community attitudes influenced individual participants’ beliefs about educational and employment opportunities for Fijians with communication disability.

Conclusion: Determination and acknowledgement of individuals’ belief systems informs development of culturally appropriate intervention programmes and health promotion activities.

Implications: Speech-language pathologists and other professionals working with Fijian communities should acknowledge community belief systems and develop culturally-specific health promotion activities, assessments, and interventions.


Multilingual; service development; speech-language pathology; disability perspectives

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