Communication Tips for Justice Professionals

People with communication disabilities have their own, unique communication needs and will require different accommodations and supports. Always ask the person what you can do to make communication go smoothly.

The following basic tips may be useful.

Be Respectful

Talk directly to the person in a normal tone and volume.  Avoid talking in a childish manner or directing your questions to a person who may be accompanying the individual.

Quiet Environment

Move to a quiet place with no distractions so that you can focus on what the person is communicating.

Give Extra Time

Give extra time for communicating. It takes longer for a person with a communication disability to get their message across than someone who does not have a disability.

Be Patient

Be willing to wait until you understand the person’s message.

Presence of Support Person

Find out who the person wants to be present when they are communicating with you. Do not assume that they want the person who may be with them.

Communication Methods

Listen, and observe all communication methods that the person may use including speech, gestures, body language, facial expressions, a picture, letter board, device or human assistance.

If it is not obvious, ask the person what you should do when communicating with them. They may tell you or give you instructions to read or defer to someone else to tell you.

If the person has no apparent way to communicate, ask them to show you how they communicate Yes and No.

Communication Problems

Tell the person if you do not understand what they are communicating. Suggest that they repeat the message or tell you in another way. If it is appropriate, ask if you can guess. If necessary, ask if there is someone they trust who can assist you understanding their messages.

Communication Assistance

Find out if the person knows someone that they trust, who can assist with communication. This could be a family member, advocate, support worker or friend. It is important that the person with the communication disability approves the person who is assisting them and validates what they communicate on their behalf.  You must always observe how this assistance is provided.

Communication Intermediary

Engage a Communication Intermediary if:

  • the person has no one to assist them communicating
  • you question the validity of the communication assistance they may be receiving from someone they know
  • you determine that the situation requires the services of an impartial, professional, Communication Intermediary.


  • It is important that you know the role of a communication intermediary, and what they can and cannot do
  • As a component of duty to accommodate, it is your responsibility to find and engage a communication intermediary
  • Make arrangements for and observe the Communication Intermediary conduct a communication assessment
  • Discuss recommended communication accommodations and supports
  • Be present at all times when the Intermediary supports the individual

Make Yourself Understood

  • Use plain, every day, concrete language and short sentences. Avoid jargon and terminology.
  • Ask one question at a time and in chronological order.
  • Pause between sentences and questions to give time for the person to process and understand what you are saying.
  • When necessary, use pictures, diagrams, and objects to show what you are talking about.
  • Do not use tag questions such as “He didn’t do it, did he?”
  • Avoid statements followed by “Do you agree?”
  • Avoid preambles before asking a question.

Check for understanding

Check if the person understands what you are saying. Ask if they can tell you in their own words or own way what you have said. If the person cannot communicate this, you could use some probing questions that require a Yes and No response.


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