Communication with people with disabilities


General tips for communicating with people with a disability

  • Speak to a person with a disability as you would speak to anyone else. Speak in an age-appropriate tone. Treat adults as adults
  • If a person with a disability is accompanied by another person such as a carer, address your questions directly to the person with a disability
  • Put the person first, not their disability. For example, use the term “a person with a disability” rather than “a disabled person”
  • Try to avoid negative phrases such as “suffers from” and “crippled”. Use the phrase “people who use a wheelchair” rather than “wheelchair bound”.


Communicating with people with physical disabilities

  • Remember that a person’s personal space can include their wheelchair and crutches. Do not touch or push a person’s wheelchair or move their crutches or walking stick without their permission
  • When speaking with a person who uses a wheelchair, try to find something to sit on in order to be at eye level with them.


Communicating with people with a vision impairment

  • When you meet people who have a vision impairment, always address them by name and introduce yourself by name
  • Speak clearly and in a normal voice. There is no need to raise your voice
  • Remember that people with a vision impairment cannot rely on the same visual cues as people who do not have a vision impairment. Make sure you verbalise any thoughts or feelings
  • If a person is accompanied by a guide dog, do not pat it, feed it or otherwise distract it while it is in a harness. A dog in a harness is working
  • When you enter or leave a room, say something that indicates your presence or that you are leaving. This ensures that the person who has a vision impairment will not be embarrassed by speaking to an empty space.


Communicating with people with a hearing impairment

  • Gain the person’s attention before speaking. Try a gentle tap on the shoulder, a wave or some other visual signal to gain attention
  • Face the person directly and maintain eye contact
  • Make sure your mouth is visible. Remember not to cover your mouth with your hand or any other object as you talk
  • Look directly at the person while speaking and speak evenly, not too fast or slow
  • Don’t exaggerate your mouth movements, as this will make it more difficult to lip-read
  • Use short sentences
  • Keep your volume up and natural. Don’t shout.



Communicating with people with an intellectual disability

  • Before talking, ensure you have the person’s attention. Try using their name or eye contact to make sure you have their attention
  • Keep your questions simple and your answers easy to understand
  • Remember that your body language is important, as people with an intellectual disability often rely on visual cues
  • Be prepared to use visual information or to receive visual information from people with an intellectual disability
  • Be specific and direct. Avoid talking using abstracts, acronyms, metaphors or puns.