Communicating with people who have a disability

The fundamental principle is to focus on the person and not the disability. 

When meeting a person with a disability for the first time some of us may feel awkward, uncomfortable or unsure of what to say and do. 

Talking about disability can be difficult. We may not know which terms are appropriate and which terms might be unintentionally offensive or discriminatory. 

This web page provides a few tips on meeting, working and communicating with a person who has a disability. It aims to develop the skills required to build positive connections both socially and in the workplace.

The most effective strategy is to relax. Treat a person with a disability in the same way you would treat anyone else you meet. Be sensitive and respectful and if you’re unsure of what to do don’t hesitate to ask.

Say... Avoid Saying...
Person with a disability Disabled person; Handicapped; Victim; Deformed; Retarded
Uses a wheelchair Confined to a wheelchair
Person with cerebral palsy Afflicted by cerebral palsy
Person who is blind or has low vision   Blind/can’t see or ‘The Blind’
Person with a physical disability Crippled, Invalid; ‘The Crippled’
Person who is deaf or hard of hearing  Deaf and dumb or ‘The Deaf’
Person who is non-verbal Deaf mute
Accessible parking Handicapped parking
Accessible toilets Disabled toilets
Stroke survivor Stroke sufferer or stroke victim

… address the person by their name and if you don’t know, ask.
… ask the person about the best way to communicate.
… speak directly to the person even if they are accompanied by a carer or interpreter.
…take the time to listen. If you can’t understand what a person is saying don’t pretend, ask them to repeat it, spell it or write it down.

Page last updated: Monday, 6 May 2019