Communicating with Individuals with Disabilities

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General Tips for Communicating with People with Disabilities

  • When introduced to a person with a disability, it is appropriate to offer to shake hands. People with limited hand use or who wear an artificial limb can usually shake hands. (Shaking hands with the left hand is an acceptable greeting).
  • If you offer assistance, wait until the offer is accepted. Then listen to or ask for instructions.
  • Treat adults as adults. Address people who have disabilities by their first names only when extending the same familiarity to all others.
  • Relax. Don't be embarrassed if you happen to use common expressions such as "See you later" or "Did you hear about that?" that seem to relate to a person's disability.
  • Don't be afraid to ask questions when you're unsure of what to do.

Tips for Communicating with Individuals who are Blind or Visually Impaired

  • Speak to the individual when you approach him or her.
  • State clearly who you are; speak in a normal tone of voice.
  • When conversing in a group, remember to identify yourself and the person to whom you are speaking.
  • Never touch or distract a service dog without first asking the owner.
  • Tell the individual when you are leaving.
  • Do not attempt to lead the individual without first asking; allow the person to hold your arm and control her or his own movements.
  • Be descriptive when giving directions; verbally give the person information that is visually obvious to individuals who can see. For example, if you are approaching steps, mention how many steps.
  • If you are offering a seat, gently place the individual's hand on the back or arm of the chair so that the person can locate the seat.

Tips for Communicating with Individuals who are Deaf or Hard of Hearing

  • Gain the person's attention before starting a conversation (i.e. tap the person gently on the shoulder or arm).
  • Look directly at the individual, face the light, speak clearly, in a normal tone of voice, and keep your hands away from your face. Use short, simple sentences.
  • If the individual uses a sign language interpreter, speak directly to the person, not the interpreter.
  • If you telephone an individual who is hard of hearing, let the phone ring longer than usual. Speak clearly and be prepared to repeat the reason for the call and who you are.
  • If you do not have a Text Telephone (TTY), dial 711 to reach the national telecommunications relay.

Tips for Communicating with Individuals with Mobility Impairments  

  • If possible, put yourself at the wheelchair user's eye level.
  • Do not lean on a wheelchair or any other assistive device.
  • Never patronize people who use wheelchairs by patting them on the head or shoulder.
  • Do not assume the individual wants to be pushed — ask first.
  • Offer assistance if the individual appears to be having difficulty opening a door.
  • If you telephone the individual, allow the phone to ring longer than usual to allow extra time for the person to reach the telephone.

Tips for Communicating with Individuals with Speech Impairments

  • If you do not understand something the individual says, do not pretend that you do. Ask the individual to repeat what he or she said and then repeat it back.
  • Be patient. Take as much time as necessary.
  • Try to ask questions which require only short answers or a nod of the head.
  • Concentrate on what the individual is saying.
  • Do not speak for the individual or attempt to finish her or his sentences.
  • If you are having difficulty understanding the individual, consider writing as an alternative means of communicating, but first ask the individual if this is acceptable.

Tips for Communicating with Individuals with Cognitive Disabilities

  • If you are in a public area with many distractions, consider moving to a quiet or private location.
  • Be prepared to repeat what you say, orally, or in writing.
  • Offer assistance completing forms or understanding written instructions and provide extra time for decision-making. Wait for the individual to accept the offer of assistance; do not "over-assist" or be patronizing.
  • Be patient, flexible, and supportive. Take time to understand the individual and make sure the individual understands you.


  • Relax.
  • Treat the individual with dignity, respect, and courtesy.
  • Listen to the individual.
  • Offer assistance, but do not insist or be offended if your offer is not accepted.

Referenced from: WebAIM

1/31/2024 12:18:48 PM