Notice:

Classes have resumed online and via remote flexible learning. Check email and Blackboard for updates. All NWTC facilities are closed to the public and students until April 24. All campus resources are available by phone, chat, email or text.

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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.
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