Tips for Interacting with Persons with Disabilities

Vision Loss
Hearing Loss
Physical Disabilities
Speech or Language Disabilities
Learning Disabilities
Intellectual or Developmental Disabilities
Mental Health Disabilities

Vision Loss

Vision loss reduces a person’s ability to see clearly. Few people with vision loss are totally blind. Many have limited vision such as tunnel vision, where a person has a loss of peripheral or side vision, or a lack of central vision, which means they cannot see straight ahead. Some people can see the outline of objects while others can see the direction of light.

  • Don’t assume the person cannot see you.
  • To get the person’s attention, address her directly; say your name; do not touch the person.
  • When providing printed information, offer to read or describe it.
  • When sending or printing documents that you have the ability to alter, ask if there are changes you can make to make it easier for the recipient to read.
  • Don’t be afraid to use words such as “see”, “read”, or “look”.
  • When offering to guide someone, hold out your elbow. Give clear, precise directions, e.g., two steps behind you. Don’t use “over there” or point in the direction.
  • If you’re uncertain about how to provide directions, ask the person how to do so.

Hearing Loss

People who have hearing loss may be Deaf, oral deaf, deafened or hard of hearing.

People who are profoundly deaf may identify themselves as culturally Deaf or oral deaf. In Deaf culture, indicated by a capital “D,” the term is used to describe a person who has severe to profound hearing loss, with little or no hearing.

Oral deaf is a term describing a person who was born deaf or became deaf before learning to speak, but is taught to speak and may not use American Sign Language.

The term “deafened” describes a person who has lost their hearing slowly or suddenly in adulthood. The person may use speech with visual cues such as captioning or computerized note-taking, speechreading or sign language.

The term “hard of hearing” describes a person who uses their residual hearing (hearing that remains) and speech to communicate. The person may supplement communication by speechreading, hearing aids, sign language and/or communication devices.

  • Ensure you have her attention before speaking. Discreetly wave your hand or gently tap her shoulder if needed.
  • Reduce background noise, or move to a quieter place in the room.
  • Keep your face visible and hands and objects away from your face to aid speechreading.
  • If the person is using an interpreter, speak directly to the person not the interpreter.
  • Speak clearly, pacing your speech and pauses normally. Don’t shout or over-pronounce your words.
  • If necessary, ask if another method of communicating would be easier, for example, using a pen and paper. Be patient if you are using a pen and paper to communicate. American Sign Language may be your customer’s first language. It has its own grammatical rules and sentence structure.

Physical Disabilities

There are many types and degrees of physical disability, and not all are visible. May restrict a person in any of the following:

  • Control or speed of movement
  • Coordination and balance
  • Ability to grasp some objects
  • Ability to walk long distances
  • Ability to sit or stand for prolonged periods
  • Ask before providing help. Persons with physical disabilities often have their own way of doing things.
  • If the person uses a wheelchair or scooter, sit down beside her to enable eye contact and reduce neck strain for longer interactions.
  • If you have permission to move a person in a wheelchair, avoid leaving the person in an awkward position, such as facing a wall.
  • Let your customer know about accessible features in the immediate area (i.e., automatic doors, accessible washrooms, elevators, ramps, etc.).

Speech or Language Disabilities

Some people have problems communicating because of their disability. Cerebral palsy, hearing loss or other conditions may make it difficult to pronounce words or may cause slurring or stuttering. They also may prevent the person from expressing themselves or prevent them from understanding written or spoken language. Some people who have severe difficulties may use communication boards or other assistive devices.

  • Don’t assume that a person who has difficulty speaking also has an intellectual or developmental disability.
  • Allow the person to complete what she is saying without interruptions.
  • If you don’t understand, ask the person to repeat the information.
  • Ask questions that can be answered ‘yes’ or ‘no’.
  • If the person uses a communication board, symbols or cards, follow her lead.

Learning Disabilities

The term “learning disability” describes a range of information processing disorders that can affect how a person acquires, understands, expresses and retains information.

Examples include dyslexia (problems in reading and related language-based learning); dyscalculia (problems in mathematics); and dysgraphia (problems in writing and fine motor skills).

It is important to know that having a learning disability does not mean a person is incapable of learning. Rather, it means they learn in a different way.

  • When you know someone with a learning disability needs help, ask how you can help.
  • Speak naturally, clearly, and directly to your customer.
  • Allow extra time if necessary - people may take a little longer to understand and respond.
  • Be patient and be willing to explain something again, if needed.

Intellectual or Developmental Disabilities

Intellectual or developmental disabilities can limit a person’s ability to learn, communicate, and in some cases to live independently.

  • As much as possible, treat your customers with an intellectual or developmental disability like anyone else. They may understand more than you think, and they will appreciate that you treat them with respect.
  • Don’t assume what a person can or cannot do.
  • Use plain language and speak in short sentences.
  • To confirm if your customer understands what you have said, consider asking the person to repeat the message back to you in his or her own words.
  • If you cannot understand what is being said, simply ask again.
  • Provide one piece of information at a time.
  • Be supportive and patient.

Mental Health Disabilities

Mental health disabilities are not as visible as many other types of disabilities. You may not know that your customer has a mental health disability unless you’re informed of it.

Examples of mental health disabilities include schizophrenia, depression, phobias, as well as bipolar, anxiety and mood disorders.

A person with a mental health disability may have difficulty with one, several or none of these:

  • Inability to think clearly
  • Hallucinations (e.g., hearing voices, seeing or feeling things that aren’t there)
  • Depression or acute mood swings (e.g., from happy to depressed with no apparent reason for the change)
  • Poor concentration
  • Difficulty remembering
  • Apparent lack of motivation.
  • Treat a person with a mental health disability with the same respect and consideration you have for everyone else.
  • Be patient.
  • Be confident and reassuring.

If someone appears to be in a crisis, ask her to tell you the best way to help. If the customer is a girl member, you should contact the parents or emergency contact listed on the health form.

Based on information provided by the Ontario Ministry of Community and Social Services

5/22/2022 4:17:09 PM