Communication Disability in Fiji: Community Cultural Beliefs and Attitudes


  • Suzanne C Hopf Charles Sturt University, AU: University of the South Pacific
  • Sharynne McLeod Charles Sturt University
  • Sarah H McDonagh Charles Sturt University
  • Epenisa N Rakanace Independent



Fijian, multilingual, speech-language pathology, service development, disability perspectives


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.

Author Biographies

Suzanne C Hopf, Charles Sturt University, AU: University of the South Pacific

Suzanne C. Hopf is an Australian speech-language pathologist, undertaking her PhD through Charles Sturt University, supported by an Australian government Endeavour Post-graduate Research Scholarship and an Australian Linguistic Society Gerhardt Laves scholarship. Her topic of research is Fijian multilingualism and the development of speech-language pathology services in the South Pacific.

Sharynne McLeod, Charles Sturt University

Professor Sharynne McLeod is a Life Member of Speech Pathology Australia and Fellow of the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association. She is the Vice President of the International Clinical Phonetics and Linguistics Association and past editor of the International Journal of Speech-Language Pathology.

Sarah H McDonagh, Charles Sturt University

Dr Sarah H. McDonagh is a lecturer in Inclusive Education at Charles Sturt University. Sarah earned her doctorate in Special Education at the University of Oregon. Her research interests are in instructional interventions in reading for students identified at risk for reading difficulties in the early school years.

Epenisa N Rakanace, Independent

Epenisa N. Rakanace is a multilingual iTaukei Fijian graduate of Fiji National University. Ben has been working with Mrs. Hopf as a research assistant on her Fiji based PhD study "Supporting Fijian children's speech, language, and literacy".




How to Cite

Hopf SC, McLeod S, McDonagh SH, Rakanace EN. Communication Disability in Fiji: Community Cultural Beliefs and Attitudes. DCIDJ [Internet]. 2017 May 23 [cited 2024 Jul. 16];28(1):112-41. Available from:



Original Research Articles