What are some hints for communicating with individuals who have disabilities?
Treat people with disabilities with the same respect and consideration with which you treat others. There are no strict rules when it comes to relating to people with disabilities. However, listed below are some helpful hints from the DO-IT Center at the University of Washington. These suggestions can also be found on the DO-IT website at Helpful Communication Hints
- Ask a person with a disability if he/she needs help before providing assistance.
- Talk directly to the person with a disability, not through the person's companion or interpreter.
- Refer to a person's disability only if it is relevant to the conversation. If so, mention the person first and then the disability. "A man who is blind" is better than "a blind man" because it puts the person first.
- Avoid negative descriptions of a person's disability. For example, "a person who uses a wheelchair" is more appropriate than "a person confined to a wheelchair." A wheelchair is not confining- it's liberating!
- Ask for permission before you interact with a person's guide dog or service dog.
Blind or Low Vision
- Be descriptive. Say, "The computer is about three feet to your left," rather than "The computer is over there."
- Speak all of the content presented with overhead projections and other visuals.
- When guiding people with visual impairments, offer them your arm rather than grabbing or pushing them.
- Offer directions/instruction both orally and in writing. If asked, read instructions to individuals who have specific learning disabilities.
- Sit or otherwise position yourself at the approximate height of people sitting in wheelchairs when you interact.
- Listen carefully. Repeat what you think you understand and then ask the person with a speech impairment to clarify and/or repeat the portion that you did not understand.
Deaf or Hard of Hearing
- Face people with hearing impairments so they can see your lips. Avoid talking while chewing gum or eating.
- Speak clearly at a normal volume. Speak louder only if requested.
- Use paper and pencil if the person who is deaf does not read lips or if more accurate communication is needed.
- In groups raise hands to be recognized, so the person who is deaf knows who is speaking. Repeat questions from audience members.
- When using an interpreter, speak directly to the person who is deaf; when an interpreter voices what a person who is deaf signs, look at the person who is deaf, not the interpreter.
- Provide information in clear, calm, respectful tones.
- Allow opportunities for addressing specific questions.
Last update or review: January 25, 2013