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Communicating With People With Disabilities

commwithpeoplewithdisabilitiescoverThis brochure provides simple ideas for communicating with people with disabilities.

It is not uncommon for some of us to be uncomfortable around people with disabilities. We may be unsure of what to do, how to act, what is correct, and what will offend. The most effective strategy is to be sensitive, flexible and honest. A lack of sensitivity or flexibility makes the situation awkward, and may cause unintentional discrimination. Acknowledging feelings of awkwardness assists us to learn. Talking about disability is often difficult, partly because the appropriate terminology is unclear and often laden with negative connotations.

The most appropriate terminology, “person with a disability,” puts the emphasis on the person, not the limitation or disability. Treat people as people. Address people who have disabilities by their first names, only when extending the same familiarity to others.

Don’t assume you know what the disability is. Many different conditions can present in similar ways. Some disabilities are “invisible” – they are not immediately obvious when you are speaking to the person, but they may still face challenges in communicating with you. Relate to the individual person and respond to their individual needs.

Different cultures also view disability differently and may not share the common view of disability as a physical or physiological issue. Be aware that people from other cultures may be embarrassed if you draw attention to the person with a disability.

Above all, be respectful, polite, and considerate, offer assistance, communicate effectively and don’t hesitate to ask questions. Treat all people in the same way you would wish to be treated yourself.