19.3.2  Communication with people who have impairments

When introduced to a person with a disability, it is appropriate to offer to shake hands. People with limited hand use or who wear an artificial limb can usually shake hands. (Shaking hands with the left hand is an acceptable greeting.)

When you are talking with a person who has difficulty speaking, listen attentively. Be patient and wait for the person to finish, rather than correcting or speaking for them. If necessary, ask short questions that require only short answers, or a nod or shake of the head. Never pretend to understand if you are having difficulty doing so. Instead, repeat what you have understood and allow the person to respond.

When speaking with a person who uses a wheelchair or a person who uses crutches, place yourself at eye level in front of the person to facilitate the conversation. When speaking with someone with a visual impairment, make sure to introduce yourself by name. When conversing in a group, remember to identify the person to whom you are speaking.

To get the attention of a person with a hearing impairment, tap the person on the shoulder or wave your hand. Look directly at the person and speak clearly, slowly, and expressively to determine if the person can read your lips. Not all people with a hearing impairment can read lips. For those who do, be sensitive to their needs by facing the light source and keep hands, food and drink away from your mouth when speaking.

People with an intellectual disability may have difficulty understanding language that is complex, or contains difficult words. It is therefore important when talking with someone with an intellectual disability to follow the guidelines in Box 19.1.

Box 19.1  Guidelines for talking with a person with an intellectual disability

  • Speak slowly and leave pauses for the person to process your words.
  • Speak directly to the person, and ensure they feel central to the consultation.
  • Speak in clear short sentences. Don’t use long, complex, or technical words and jargon.
  • Ask one question at a time, provide adequate time for the person to formulate and give their reply.
  • If necessary obtain information from parents/caregivers, maintain the focus on the person with the disability through your eye contact, body language and/or touch.

19.3.1  Appropriate and inappropriate terms

19.4  Myths and facts about disability