Communication Tips

When interacting with a person who has a disability that affects communication:

  • Treat the person with respect by talking directly to them, not just the individual who might be with them.
  • Speak naturally and clearly, using your normal tone, volume and rate.
  • If you can, move to a quiet, well-lit place to communicate.
  • Do not underestimate the person’s abilities.
  • Be patient. Do not rush the conversation.
  • Prepare to spend more time communicating.
  • Ask if there is anything you can do to make communication go smoothly.
  • Give the person opportunities to communicate what they want. Avoid guessing and overuse of Yes and No questions.
  • Be mindful of the person’s right to privacy.

If the person’s speech is difficult to understand

  • Watch the person as they are speaking.
  • Take the time to get familiar with the person’s speech.
  • Politely tell the person if you do not understand what they are saying, so that they can repeat it or communicate it in another way.
  • Video: Krystine

If the person uses a letter or picture board

  • Make sure the person has access to their communication board at all times.
  • Ask them to show you how they use their board, if it is not obvious.
  • It helps to write down the items that the person selects so that you can keep track of the message.
  • Vide: Colin

If the person uses a communication device

If the person has difficulty understanding what you are saying

  • Use clear, everyday language.
  • Avoid jargon, technical terms and long, ambiguous sentences.
  • Pause between your sentences to allow time for the person to process what you have said.
  • Ask if they want someone who knows them well to assist them in understanding information.
  • Show the person what you are talking about such as pointing to pictures, drawing or writing things down.
  • Video: Bill has aphasia after a stroke

If the person has difficulty hearing you

  • Find out if the person uses a hearing aid, if they have it and if it is working.
  • Sit in a place where the person can see you when you are speaking.
  • Speak normally, do not yell or shout, or talk too quickly.
  • Reduce background noise.
  • Use other ways of communicating such as writing, typing or showing examples of what you are talking about.

If the person has a support person with them

  • Speak directly to the individual, not to the accompanying person.
  • Ensure that the individual has access to their support person when needed.
  • Accept the person’s messages as conveyed to you by the support person.
  • The support person may also help the person understand what is being said.
  • Do not assume the support person makes decisions for the individual.
  • Check with the individual before sharing any confidential information with the support person and if required, have them sign a privacy agreement.
  • Video: Colin