Communicating with Individuals with Disabilities   

Communication is crucial. Without communication, we wouldn’t be able to effectively share our emotions, ideas, and thoughts. But when we’re put in situations that challenge our communication abilities, it can feel a little uncomfortable. This might include communicating with someone who has a learning disability, a physical disability, or someone who has difficulty hearing. Regardless of who we are speaking to though, it’s important to make sure that all individuals feel heard, seen, and respected. Read below to learn 4 tips for communicating with individuals with disabilities:  

  1. Speak to the person directly: If the person you are communicating with has a caregiver or interpreter, make sure to not default to speaking to the caregiver or interpreter. Speak directly to the person so that they feel valued and respected.  
  2. Don’t pretend to understand: If you cannot understand what the person is saying, don’t just nod your head and move on. Ask them to repeat themselves or ask clarifying questions. However, if you see the person getting frustrated that you’re not understanding, assure them that it’s okay and maybe try changing the subject of the conversation. 
  3. Respect their space: If the person has a wheelchair, crutches, scooter, or other mobility aid, treat those aids as part of their body. For example, if you can see if someone is struggling to maneuver their wheelchair, ask first if it’s okay that you touch their wheelchair.  
  4. Speak in a normal tone: Unless asked to do so, don’t raise your voice or speak and a slower pace. Many individuals with disabilities can understand you just fine without making changes to how you speak. Speaking slower or raising your voice can often imply that you’re assuming their communication skills to be less than, which can be very hurtful.  

At the end of the day, always keep in mind that individuals with disabilities are not defined by their disabilities. They are people first, so we need to treat them with the same amount of respect and dignity as we would treat anyone else.  


By Lexi Breunig