Whether you are working with adults with disabilities or interacting with a loved one, not being able to effectively communicate with people with disabilities can be a major barrier to the delivery of quality, effective care for these individuals.
From general recommendations to issues that may be specific to individuals with a variety of disabilities, the following tips and strategies can help you be more comfortable and familiar with effective communication strategies.
Effective Communication for Individuals with Disabilties
When communicating with a person with any type of disability, it is important to ensure that effective communication strategies are used. Being patient, flexible, and supportive during communication will help ensure the individual’s needs and thoughts are being fully expressed.
Effective communication strategies for all individuals with disabilities include sitting or standing at eye level with the patient and making appropriate eye contact while communicating. Regardless of their specific condition, speak in the same way and tone of voice as you would talk to anyone else. If the individual you are interacting with is accompanied by someone else, make sure you are addressing the person with disabilities rather than talking directly to the person they are with. Finally, don’t make assumptions that the person with a disability needs assistance – make sure to ask first.
Communicating with Individuals with Speech Disabilities or Difficulties
For individuals with speech disabilities or difficulties, having patience during conversations is important since it may take the person extra time to communicate. Give the individual a chance to speak without cutting them off or completing sentences for them. Asking short questions that require brief answers or a head nod can help you obtain information quickly. However, avoid insulting the person’s intelligence with oversimplification.
Developing a specific communication strategy that is consistent with the person’s abilities, such as nodding the head or blinking, can be useful for effective communication. If you do not fully understand what they are trying to communicate, voice this to them and ask if they can repeat, spell, or say it in a different way. Hand gestures and written notes can also be useful. To make sure you understand the individual correctly, repeat what you understand and note their reactions.
Treating individuals with intellectual, cognitive or developmental disabilities as adults is an important first step for effective communication. Use concrete, specific language when communicating and be prepared to repeat the same information in different ways, possibly adjusting your method of communication to find what works for you both. Supplementary visual forms of communication might also be helpful, such as gestures, demonstrations or written form.
Avoiding sensory overload is another way to ensure effective communication. You can do this by providing information or directions gradually, eliminating distractions and minimizing background noise, if possible, while communicating. If you do not understand what the individual with intellectual or developmental disabilities is trying to communicate, do not pretend to. Ask them to repeat or communicate it in a different way until you fully grasp what they are saying.
When communicating or interacting with individuals with mental health disabilities, approach the person as you would anyone else and use clear communication. Be friendly and aware of your body language. Like others, people with mental health disabilities can sense discomfort. Avoid patronizing or condescending language when speaking to individuals with mental health disabilities and never make threats to try to make them listen to you. Instead, listen attentively and be patient during communication. Individuals with mental health disabilities often have the same wants, needs, and desires as anyone else. However, do not assume that you know the person’s preferences and make decisions for them.
If you are communicating with an individual with mobility limitations, make sure to respect their personal space as you would any other person. For these individuals, their personal space may include a mobility aid, such as a wheelchair, scooter, walker or cane. When speaking to a person seated in a wheelchair or scooter, sit so that you and the person are at the same eye level. When giving directions to individuals with mobility limitations, it is important to also keep in mind distance, stairs, curbs, and other physical obstacles. Do not assume they need assistance and provide it without asking first. This includes pushing or moving their wheelchair.
Buckeye Residential Solutions’ residential specialists are able to identify and best serve the needs of our clients because they are trained and knowledgeable about the different communication barriers and effective strategies to overcome them for people with disabilities. If you believe in the importance of providing quality care to individuals with disabilities, a career as a residential specialist might be a great fit for you.