Five Pointers for Speaking to Someone with a Disability

Two young men in wheelchairs rolling through park while laughing and talking. - 7/09/2019

We can all use some pointers on good communication skills from time to time, but what about our approach when speaking to someone with a disability? Is that different? We always want to interact with respect, compassion and dignity whether someone has a disability or not. However, a few additional tips can help ensure a better connection. 

Five Pointers for Speaking to Someone with a Disability

  1. “It’s good to see you out and about!”

Never assume that a person with a disability doesn’t live a full, busy life. Everyone, including people with disabilities, juggles careers, family and community activities leading very social, active and interesting lives.

2. “Let me get the door for you.”

Helping others is a kind gesture, but perhaps slightly tweaking your approach will avoid making someone with a disability feel inferior. For example, you might say: “Hi, how are you today? Can I get that door for you?” Then wait until the offer is accepted and act accordingly. The objective is to avoid making the person feel less capable. 

3. “My friend has a disability. Do you know him?”

Every person with a disability doesn’t know every other person with a disability. Remember, we are all members of our communities, and people with disabilities aren’t meant to be singled out as members of a “secret club.”

4. “You are a rock star!”

This well-meant compliment can come across as patronizing. If a person with a disability has achieved something specific, compliment him or her as you would anyone. However, praising someone “just because” he or she lives with a disability could be considered offensive.

5. Speaking to someone with a disability, but avoiding eye contact.

Practice good manners when speaking to someone with a disability. Look at the person and engage in the conversation. Otherwise, you may appear insincere.

In the end, everyone wants to be treated with respect and dignity. Learn more about how a local agency is helping people with disabilities find training and jobs at GCE.org.