We communicate with people many times every day, either face to face, on the phone or in writing. When communicating with someone with disability, it is important to remember to treat each person as an individual. Also, treat people with respect and consideration and in the way that you would want to be treated.
Some general tips for successful communication:
- use a normal tone of voice—do not raise your voice unless asked to
- be polite and patient—do not rush the conversation
- speak directly to the person rather than the person with them
- ask the person what will help with communication—there are different ways to communicate
- don't pretend to understand—let the person know you are having difficulty; try asking yes or no questions
- be flexible—reword rather than repeat anything that is not understood
- only refer to the person's disability if necessary or relevant
- offer assistance if it appears necessary, but respect the person's wishes if they don't accept your offer
- avoid saying anything that implies the person with disability is superhuman, courageous or special
- relax—everyone makes mistakes; apologise if you believe you have embarrassed someone.
Communicating with someone who has a guide, hearing or assistance dog
When you meet a person with a guide, hearing or assistance dog, or a dog in training, it’s important to remember that the dog is working. Keep in mind that even though it may appear that the handler and dog team are not performing a task at that moment, the dog is still on call and must give its full attention to the person it is accompanying. Here are a few tips:
- speak to the person first
- keep in mind that the dog has an important job to do
- know that the dog loves to work and is well treated
- remember that the dog is highly trained
- teach others that the dog is working
- be aware that guide, hearing and assistance dogs are allowed in public places, on public passenger vehicles and in places of accommodation
- don’t talk to, call, or make sounds at the dog
- don’t touch the dog without asking—and receiving—permission
- don’t be offended if asked not to pat the dog
- don’t feed the dog
- don’t give commands to the dog—this is the handler's job
- don’t ask personal questions about the person’s disability or intrude on their privacy
- don’t be offended if the person declines to chat about the dog.
A way with words
A way with words provides guidelines for the portrayal of people with disability with the aim of promoting inclusiveness and the accurate and fair portrayal of people with disability. Topics covered include appropriate language, interviewing a person with disability, providing public information to people with disability and general guidelines on communicating with a person with disability.
Complex communication needs
Complex communication needs shares information about what the term ‘complex communication needs’ means, the perspectives of some people with complex communication needs, and some general strategies that can be used on a daily basis.
Communication boards are a visual way of representing speech. They let people with disability express their needs, and communicate, using pictures.
A range of communication boards are available for download. Each board is customised for a particular use, such as: