Tips: How to communicate with students with disabilities
Always put the students/people first before their disabilities when communicating with students/people with disabilities. Here are some useful tips when communicating with students/people with disabilities.
General Communication tips
- Be yourself.
- Treat the students as any other student.
- Most students/people with disabilities are very independent individuals. Please ask before providing any kind of assistance. And listen and/or ask for instructions.
- Only refer to the person's disabilities if they are relevant but avoid negative descriptions.
- Avoid using words which imply pity for the person such as "suffering from", "victim of", "unfortunate", or "afflicted with".
- Emphasis abilities, not disabilities - say, "uses a wheelchair" rather than "cannot walk" or "confined to a wheelchair".
- Use "non-disabled" rather than "normal" when describing a person without disabilities.
- Confidentiality is very important. Do not discuss the person's/student's disabilities with other staff or students/people.
- Identify yourself and others around you.
- Speak in a normal voice and tone.
- Pay attention to the hand motion to whether or not to shake his/her hand.
- Use descriptive speech when giving directions - give directions to the location and how far.
- Walk one step ahead and always let the person know about any changes in directions, terrain, obstacles or steps.
- When helping a person with visual impairment to his/her seat, place his/her hand on the back of the chair.
- Avoid summarizing - read the entire content as other person would.
- Offer your arm when guiding the person - Do not grab the person.
- Always indicate when a conversation has ended and/or you are leaving the area.
- Avoid interacting with service animals unless permission is given.
- Face the person when speaking to him/her. Some can read lips.
- Avoid chewing when talking.
- Have the conversation in a quiet place if possible. Speak at normal volume. Raise the volume only if asked.
- The use of body language can help.
- Be sure the person is ready to hear you.
- Write down what you need to say if the person does not read lips and you cannot sign.
- Write down what you have said if you think the person does not understand.
- Raise your hand when trying to speaking in a group setting.
- Repeat other's questions to give the person have a chance to read your lips.
- Rephrase - do not repeat - as some words are harder to lip read.
- Look, speak, and address the person directly rather than the interpreter.
- Use both verbal and written when giving directions or instructions.
- Read them out loud if asked.
- Speak calmly.
- If the person is in a wheelchair, please sit or position yourself at their height level when speaking to him/her.
- Do not pat the heads of people in wheelchairs - it is perceived as demeaning or patronizing.
- Do not lean or hang on to the wheelchairs.
- Listen carefully then repeat to avoid miscommunication.
- Be patient and casual.
- Allow the person to finish his/her sentence. Do not interrupt or finish the sentence.
- Do not rush the person.
- Do not be afraid to ask the person to repeat or clarify anything that you do not understand.
- Offer pen and paper if you continue to have difficulty understanding.
- Speak in a clear, calm and respectful tone when talking or giving information.
- Allow yourself time to address questions even if you think that you have explained thoroughly.
- Do not make promises you cannot keep.