Interacting with people with varying disability types

Communication disabilities can affect one or more communication areas such as a person’s ability to speak, understand what others are saying, read, and/or write. Consider the following guidelines when interacting with people with varying disability types:


  • Don’t assume person can’t see you
  • Addressing person directly and say your name — don’t touch person
  • Offer to read or describe printed information
  • Don’t be afraid to use words like “see”, “read”, or “look”
  • Allow extra time to communicate
  • Write down things if necessary
  • When guiding someone:
    • hold out your elbow
    • give clear, precise directions
    • if uncertain, ask person how to do so


  • Ensure you have person’s attention before speaking — discreetly wave your hand or gently tap their shoulder if needed
  • Reduce background noise, or move to quieter place in room
  • Keep your face visible and hands and objects away from your face to aid speechreading
  • If person using interpreter, speak directly to person not interpreter
  • Speak clearly, pacing speech and pauses normally
  • If necessary, ask if another method of communicating would be easier, such as pen and paper


  • Ask before helping 
  • If person uses wheelchair or scooter, sit down beside them to enable eye contact 
  • If permission to move person in wheelchair, avoid leaving person in awkward position
  • Let person know about accessible features in immediate area

Speech or language

  • Don’t assume person also has intellectual or developmental disability
  • Allow person to complete what saying without interruptions
  • If you don’t understand, ask person to repeat information
  • Ask questions that can be answered “yes” or “no”
  • If person uses communication board, symbols or cards, follow their lead


  • Ask how you can help
  • Speak naturally, clearly, and directly to person
  • Allow extra time if necessary
  • Be patient and be willing to explain something again

Intellectual or developmental

  • As much as possible, treat person like anyone else
  • Don’t assume what person can or cannot do
  • Use plain language and speak in short sentences
  • Consider asking person to repeat message back to you in their own words
  • If can’t understand what said, ask again
  • Provide one piece of information at a time
  • Be supportive and patient

Mental health

  • Treat person like anyone else
  • Be patient
  • Be confident and reassuring

Library staff/volunteer training will include how to interact and communicate with persons with disabilities in a manner that they prefer for their particular disability type.


Council of Ontario University’s Accessible Campus’ Interacting with Persons with Disabilities

Communication Disabilities Across Canada (CDAC) website includes resources on: