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.

Communicating with Individuals with Intellectual or Developmental Disabilties

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