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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.

Visual impairments

  • 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.

Hearing impairments

  • 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.

Learning disabilities

  • Use both verbal and written when giving directions or instructions.
  • Read them out loud if asked.
  • Speak calmly.

Mobility impairments

  • 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.

Speech problems

  • 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.

Psychiatric disabilities

  • 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.