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.