Communication with people with disability can be challenging if the person’s disability affects their ability to use spoken language. Examples include deafness, some type of Autism and other intellectual disability.
Here are general tips from the Australian Federation of Disability Organisation’s fact sheet, Communication with People with Disability, to help ensure you have a positive interaction.
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 who are blind or have low vision
When meeting people with little or no vision:
- 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 visual cues and facial expressions will most likely be missed. Make sure you verbalise any thoughts or feelings.
- If accompanied by a guide dog, do not pat it, feed it or otherwise distract it in any way. When in harness, the dog is working.
- Say something when you enter or leave a room, 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 who are hard of hearing/deaf
- Some deaf people use Auslan (Australian Sign Language). If Auslan is the preferred language, arrange for an Auslan Interpreter to be present.
- 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.