The Most Important C Word – Communication

The most important C Word – Communication

Guidelines for better communication with and about people with disabilities

Communicating with people with disabilities

Next time you’re chatting with or interviewing a person with disabilities here’s a few things to keep in mind.

– Remember that the person you are communicating with is the expert on themselves. Don’t be afraid to ask questions! Most people with disabilities will be happy to tell you if they have any specific communication needs and happy to let you know their preferences when it comes to describing their disability. However, do not be offended if someone does not want to answer your questions. Everyone has the right to keep their business their own.

– If you are talking to and/or about a person with disability, keep looking at and speaking or signalling directly to that person, even if they have an interpreter or communication assistant. It is only polite to maintain your attention on the person you are speaking with or about.

– Don’t assume that a person’s disability makes them unable to understand you or communicate with you. Speak at a normal volume and pace, in your usual manner. If you think the person may be having trouble – ask if they need clarification, and give them the chance to question you. Whether we have a disability or not, not everyone shares the same knowledge of technical language, so it is polite to speak plainly and avoid unnecessary jargon.

– Get on a level with the person you’re communicating with. You don’t conduct other conversations standing over the person you’re talking to, so there’s no need to change the rules for people with disabilities.

– If you are having trouble understanding what a person with disabilities is communicating, don’t be embarrassed to ask for clarification – this is likely something that has happened before and the person may well have strategies to deal with it.

Communicating about people with disabilities

If you are communicating about disability issues or people with disabilities here are a few golden rules to live by.

– Ask yourself if it is necessary to identify the person as having a disability. If you are preparing a document on community gardening in which a person with muscular dystrophy provided comment on the best type of trees to plant, their disability is probably irrelevant.

– Always put the person first. When describing someone with a disability they are not totally defined by their disability, such as in the phrase “wheelchair bound”. Instead they are a “wheelchair user”.

– Avoid using pitying or sensationalist terms. Most people with disabilities don’t see themselves as “debilitated” or even “inspiring” – they just see themselves as people much like anyone else. These terms should be used sparingly and their application should be measured against whether they would be as easily applied to someone without a disability who had done the same things. Pulling babies from a fire is still considered inspiring.