Unit 5 - Relating to People With Disabilities
ADA Brief Unit 5
Unit 6 - Communication Skills
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Unit 5 - Relating To People With Disabilities

Lesson 5.0 Introduction
Lesson 5.1 Communication and Disabilities
Lesson 5.2 Conversation Skills
Lesson 5.3 Reception Skills
Lesson 5.4 Do’s And Don’ts
Lesson 5.5 Practical Assignment
Unit 5 Quiz


Upon completing this unit you should be able to:

1. Discuss the distinction between disability and handicap

2. Define communication

3. Explain communication disabilities

4. Recognize communication barriers

5. Discuss conversation enablement

6. Describe reception tips and techniques

7. Classify appropriate "Do's and Don'ts"

Lesson 5.0 Introduction

Some of the information presented in this section is also found in other units. The duplication is to reinforce the lessons and provide alternate points of view on similar issues.

People with disabilities are not conditions or diseases. They are individual human beings. For example, a person is not an epileptic but rather a person who has epilepsy. First and foremost they are people. Only secondarily do they have one or more disabling conditions. Hence, they prefer to be referred to as people with disabilities.

Distinction between disability and handicap: A disability is a condition caused by an accident, trauma, genetics or disease which may limit a person’s mobility, hearing, vision, speech or mental function. Some people with disabilities have one or more disabilities. A handicap is a physical or attitudinal constraint that is imposed upon a person, regardless of whether that person has a disability.

Webster’s Ninth New Collegiate Dictionary defines handicap as to put at a disadvantage. Example: Some people with disabilities use wheelchairs. Stairs, narrow doorways and curbs are handicaps imposed upon people with disabilities who use wheelchairs. People with disabilities have all manner of disabling conditions:

  • mobility impairments
  • blindness and vision impairments
  • deafness and hearing impairments
  • speech and language impairments
  • mental and learning disabilities

Most non-disabled persons are uncomfortable around a person with a disability--until they get to know him or her. Most persons with disabilities will tell you they don’t want sympathy, they don’t want pity--they want to be treated as any other person. Sometimes it isn’t easy to relate to a person with a disability face to face.

Case Questions:

We all want to do the right thing, but what is it? Think about the following situations. What would you do?

  • Have you ever heard someone called a “handicapped person?” What do you think of first when you hear that?
    • We should think of the person first.
    • Can you think of a term that is better than “handicapped person?”
  • You have just met someone who uses a wheelchair. You begin to talk and become involved in a long chat.
    • In what position should you be in to make a long talk easier for both of you?
  • A friend is rolling his or her wheelchair down a long hallway. You are walking with your friend.
    • What should you do?
  • You are introducing a friend who is blind to several of your other friends.
    • How will you make the introductions?
  • You are in a new place with your friend who is blind.
    • What can you do to assist your friend?

The word “handicap” is often used as a synonym for disability. However, its usage is becoming less acceptable when referring to or describing a person. Except when citing laws or regulations, use the word “disability” or “disabled.“ Most important is to see the person with a disability as a person first. Note the difference in the following: a disabled person vs. a person with a disability.

Additionally, avoid referring to persons by descriptors only, such as “disabled,” as in “the disabled.” Remember, person first. Following is a partial list of acceptable terms for referring to people with disabilities:

  • people who are (name of disability)
  • persons with (physical/mental disabilities)
  • visually impaired / partially sighted
  • hearing impaired / partial hearing loss
  • a person who is deaf

Lesson 5.1 Communication and Disabilities


Communication is the way we interact with others and the world around us. Receiving, processing and sending information to exchange thoughts, feelings, wants and ideas, and to monitor changes in our environment. We communicate in many different ways--through touch, sight, hearing, smell, speech, writing, gesturing, and reading. Speaking and listening is the most common ways we communicate. People experience communications disabilities when their ability to receive, send, or process information is reduced.


People experience communication disabilities when their ability to receive, send, or process information is reduced.

Two Major Communication Disabilities Categories:

  • Hearing impairments affect 21 to 28 million Americans (about 10% of the U.S. population) of all ages. Hearing impairments are very common in older individuals, affecting up to 60% of those people over 65 years of age. Hearing losses range from mild (difficulty hearing soft sounds) to profound deafness (difficulty or inability to hear even loud sounds).

  • Speech and language impairments affect more than three million Americans of all ages. These impairments range from mild to severe difficulty in producing speech sounds; in fluency (stuttering); and producing or understanding language, reading, and writing due to learning disabilities, stoke, or head injury.

In many cases, people have multiple impairments (e.g., vision mobility, and speech) that affect their communication ability.


The amount of difficulty varies with:

  • type(s) and severity of impairment
  • ability to use other information sources or communication modalities, for example, the ability to speech read, ability to read
  • a communication situation, such as complexity of information, level of information, level of familiarity
  • differences or mismatches in primary communication mode, for example, manual sign language vs. spoken language
  • physical environments, for example, noise levels, lighting, distance between speaker/listener
  • ability to use and benefit from assistive devices or services


Physical / Environmental Barriers to Communication:

  • background noise
  • poor lighting conditions that interfere with ability to speech read or see signing
  • poor room acoustics/ rooms that echo or reverberate
  • distance from the source of sound
  • distractions
  • inadequate ventilation
  • nterfering objects
  • a poor angle of vision
  • seating arrangement prevents seeing speakers’ faces
  • lack of assistive listening systems
  • lack of alerting devices
  • failure to use visual aids (overheads, chalkboards)
  • illegible visual aids.
  • multiple speakers / sound sources
  • fast-paced or hurried situations
  • Complex or lengthy information
  • aural (hearing)-only or visual-only information

Attitudinal and behavior factors (toward persons with disability) include:

  • impatience
  • prejudice
  • poor communication style (e.g. hand covering face, rapid speech)· amplification devices (e.g., hearing aids, assistive listening devices
  • alternative and augmentative devices for speech and language impairments (e.g., manual or electronic communication boards, voice amplifier)
  • supplement information using other modalities (e.g., visual, tactile)
  • simply information in the impaired modality (e.g., simplify and slowdown speech, rephrase)
  • use a combination of modalities
  • remove physical barriers or change place of communication

What types of COMMUNICATION AIDS and SERVICES are available?

  • personally prescribed devices (e.g., hearing aids, electronic communication and speech output systems)
  • devices and services that can be used in addition to or instead of personally prescribed devices to:
- enhance or amplify acoustic information
- provide visual and/or tactile information
- translate or facilitate communication information


  • ask the person with the disability about their needs
  • consider the communication situation (e.g., nature, length, and complexity)
  • evaluate the accuracy and rate of information transfer and emotional reactions
  • select appropriate aids and services, giving consideration to individual preferences
  • use a combination of aids and services with appropriate communication techniques. For example, speaking clearly in a normal tone of voice, writing key words, using short sentences, gesturing, signing, looking directly at the listener when speaking.

Lesson 5.2 Conversation Skills

When talking to a person with a disability, look at and speak directly to that person, rather than through a companion who may be along. A person with a disability has the same range of personality traits, interests, and desires as anyone else. Therefore, the most important guideline for assisting people with disabilities is to focus on the person, not their disability.

Relax. Don’t be embarrassed if you happen to use accepted common expressions such as see you later or got to be running along that seems to relate to the person’s disability.

To get the attention of a person with a hearing impairment, tap the person on the shoulder or wave your hand. Look directly at the person and speak clearly, naturally and slowly to establish if the person can read lips. Not all persons with hearing impairments can lip-read. Those who can rely on facial expression and other body language to help in understanding. Show consideration by placing yourself facing the light source and keeping your hands, and other objects away from your mouth when speaking. Keep mustaches well-trimmed. Shouting won’t help. Written notes may.

When talking with a person in a wheelchair for more than a few minutes, use a chair, whenever possible, in order to place yourself at the person’s eye level to facilitate conversation.

When greeting a person with a severe loss of vision, always identify yourself and others who may be with you. When conversing in a group, give a vocal cue by announcing the name of the person to whom you are speaking. Speak in a normal tone of voice, indicate in advance when you will be moving from one place to another and let it be known when the conversation is at an end.

Listen attentively when you’re talking to a person who has a speech impairment. Keep your manner encouraging rather than correcting. Exercise patience rather than attempting to speak for a person with speech difficulty. When necessary, ask short questions that require short answers or a nod or a shake of the head. Never pretend to understand if you are having difficulty doing so. Repeat what you understand, or incorporate the person’s statements into questions.

If you have difficulty communicating, be willing to repeat or rephrase a question. Open-ended questions (who, what, when, where, how) are more appropriate than closed-ended questions (yes/no). Here are examples:

  • Closed - ended question: You were an accountant at XYZ Company. Did you like your work?
  • Open - ended question: What did you like best about your recent position as an accountant with the XYZ Company?

Do not shout at a hearing impaired person. Shouting distorts sounds accepted through hearing aids and inhibits lip reading. Do not shout at a person who is blind or visually impaired --he or she can hear you!

To facilitate conversation, be prepared to offer a visual cue to a hearing impaired person or an audible cue to a vision impaired person, especially when more than one person is speaking.

Lesson 5.3 Reception Skills

Don’t be afraid to make a mistake when meeting someone with a disability. Keep in mind that a person who has a disability is a person and like you, entitled to the dignity, consideration, respect and rights you expect for yourself.

Know where accessible restrooms, drinking fountains and telephones are located. If such facilities are not available, be ready to offer alternatives, such as the private or employee’s restroom, a glass of water or your desk phone.

Use a normal tone of voice when extending a verbal welcome. Do not raise your voice unless requested.

When introduced to a person with a disability, it is appropriate to offer to shake hands. People with limited hand use or who wear an artificial limb can usually shake hands.

  • Shaking hands with the left hand is acceptable.
  • For those who cannot shake hands, touch the person on the shoulder or arm to welcome and acknowledge their presence.

Treat adults in a manner befitting adults:

  • Call a person by his or her first name only when extending that familiarity to all others present.
  • Never patronize people using wheelchairs by patting them on the head or shoulder.
  • When addressing a person who uses a wheelchair, never lean on the person’s wheelchair. The chair is part of the space that belongs to the person who uses it.
  • When talking with a person with a disability, look at and speak directly to that person rather than through a companion who may be along.
  • If an interpreter is present, speak to the person who is deaf, not the interpreter. Always maintain eye contact with the person with the disability, not the interpreter.
  • Offer assistance in a dignified manner with sensitivity and respect. Be prepared to have the offer declined. Do not proceed to assist if your offer to assist is declined. Some people may be well able to help themselves. If the offer is accepted, listen to and accept instructions.
  • Allow a person with a visual impairment to take your arm (at or about the elbow). This will enable you to guide rather than propel or lead the person.
  • Offer to hold or carry packages in a welcoming manner.
  • When offering to hand a coat or umbrella, do not offer to hand a cane or crutches unless the individual requests otherwise.

Lesson 5.4 Do’s and Don’ts

Do offer assistance to a person with a disability, but wait for an answer BEFORE you help. Listen to any instructions the person may give. If a person with a disability declines your offer to help, respect his or her decision.

When talking with a person who has a disability, speak directly to that person and not through his or her companion. When a person with a disability is present, never talk about that person as if he or she were not there. If a sign language interpreter is used, speak directly to the person who is deaf, not to the interpreter.

Relax. Don’t be embarrassed if you happen to use an accepted, common expression, such as “See you later” or “Got to be running along” that seems to relate to the person’s disability.

Treat adults in a manner befitting adults. Don’t patronize people in wheelchairs by, for example, patting them on the head or shoulder.

When writing or speaking about people with disabilities, place the person BEFORE the disability out of respect for individual uniqueness and worth. Say “person with a disability,” or “person with epilepsy” rather then “disabled person” or “epileptic.”

When speaking about parts of a building or parking, replace “handicapped” with “accessible” (e.g. accessible parking, an accessible bathroom). When speaking about people, use “has a disability: instead of “handicapped.” As an example “she has a disability” is much better than” she is handicapped.” Reserve the word” handicap” for the golf course or race track!

Do learn where to find and recruit people with disabilities. Don’t assume that persons with disabilities do not want to work. Americans with disabilities are the largest group of Americans who want to pay taxes.

Do learn how to communicate with people who have disabilities.

Be considerate of the extra time it might take for a person with a disability to get things said or done.

Do treat an individual with a disability the same way you would treat an individual without a disability -- with dignity and respect.

Don’t assume that your work place is accessible.

When interacting with individuals with a disability, it will help if you are aware of and use some simple communication techniques.

Hearing impairments

To get the attention of a person with a hearing impairment, tap the person on the shoulder or wave your hand. Shouting usually won’t help. Once you have his or her attention, find out how he or she would like to communicate, such as writing notes, lip reading, etc. Look directly at the person and speak clearly, slowly and expressively to establish if the person can read lips. Not all people with a hearing impairment can lip-read. For those who do lip-read, be sensitive to their needs by placing yourself facing the light source and keeping hands, cigarettes, gum and food away from your mouth when speaking.

Interpreters and group meetings. Recognize that the use of an interpreter is time consuming and thus schedule more time for a meeting. When an interpreter is used, always speak directly to the person (with the disability)--not the interpreter.

Writing notes. In one-on-one meeting with an individual who is deaf and the individual cannot lip-read, it may be acceptable to write notes back and forth.

Voice tone, articulation, and extraneous objects and motions. When talking with a person who is deaf, face the person directly and speak naturally. Get the person’s attention before you speak. Speak clearly and at a moderate pace. Do not raise your voice (increased volume distorts sound), do not exaggerate lip movements, keep hands and other things away from the mouth, and allow emotions and motions to complement, and not distract from, what is being said. Use facial expressions and gestures. Give clues when changing the subject. Avoid noisy background situations.

If you do not understand what has been said, ask the person to repeat it or write it down. Do not act like you understand unless you do. Ask for confirmation of what you think was said -- “Did say two orders came in for training tapes?”

If you want to increase the likelihood that you have been understood, ask for confirmation. There is not one right way of getting confirmation. Try using open-ended questions that allow the individual vocabulary or words that are easier for him or her to pronounce. Try using short declarative sentences. Try asking questions that require merely a yes or no answer. When in doubt, ask the person for suggestions to improve communication.

Speech Impairment

If you have trouble understanding someone’s speech, do not be afraid to ask them to repeat, even three or four times, what they are saying. It is better for them to know that you do not understand rather than making an error or doing the wrong thing. If you still cannot communicate, try using paper and pen. Communication is your goal.

Speech disabilities do not imply limited intelligence. People with speech impairments do have things to say worth understanding.

Do not simplify your speech or raise your voice. Remember they can hear and understand you.

Visual Impairments

Speak directly to the person, using a normal tone voice. Your voice will orient the person. Resist the temptation to speak louder or slower, blindness is not deafness. Identify yourself and others present. When greeting or beginning a conversation, always identify yourself and anyone who might be with you. Give directional clues, such as “Jeff is on my right and Shannon is on my left.” Call the name of the person so that he or she will know that you are speaking to him or her. If you leave the person’s immediate vicinity, notify them so they will not be embarrassed by talking to empty space.

When providing assistance, allow the person to take your arm (allow them the opportunity to choose your right or left arm). This enables you to “guide” the person rather than “manipulate” the person. Warn the person of steps or changes in level. Use specific directions, rather than visual landmarks. Example: “We’ll be turning left” as opposed to “We’ll turn at the water fountain.” Be specific when giving verbal instructions or directions.

Describe obstacles in the path of travel. Use clock clues: “The door is at 3 o’clock.” When guiding a person through a doorway, inform them about whether the door opens in or out and to the right or to the left. When guiding a person through a narrow space or narrow doorway, drop your arm behind your back as a signal that they should walk directly behind you and give verbal instructions to this effect.

Before ascending or descending a step or stairs, come to a complete stop, inform the person regarding the direction of the stairs (up or down) and approximately how many steps there. If a handrail is available, inform them of its location. Persons with visual impairments use escalators, but may prefer using elevators. Ask the person which option they prefer and if assistance is necessary.

When helping to seat the person, place his or her hand on the back or the arm of the seat. They will not require further assistance in seating.

If there is an occasion to help with money, separate the bills into denominations, and hand them to the person telling them which denominations he or she has. This is not necessary with coins since they are known by touch.

Don’t pet or distract a guide dog or service dog (animal) unless the owner gives permission. Guide dogs and service animals are not pets but working animals with very specific duties. Do not pet or distract these animal helpers unless you receive permission from the owner FIRST.

An individual with a visual disability and their guide dog cannot be prohibited from entering any public facility including restaurants. Servers may offer to read the menu to the person if the person is alone or with other people who are unable to read. If Braille menus are available, offer them, but do not be surprised if people would rather have the menu read to them. Many people who are blind do not read Braille.

Give the person a print hard copy as well as Braille or audio version. Be prepared to read information aloud.

Use the words “look” or “see” freely. It is not necessary to avoid using common words when assisting a person who is blind or visually impaired.

Be sensitive to the time needed by the person to prepare and review material.

Never gesture about a blind person to someone else who may be present. The person will inevitably realize what is happening, and it will make him or her feel that you are “talking behind his or her back.”


When talking with a person in a wheelchair for more than a few minutes, place yourself at the individual’s eye level by sitting down to help create a more comfortable setting for everyone.

Don’t make contact with the wheelchair unless asked to do so. Leaning or hanging onto a person’s wheelchair is similar to leaning or hanging on a person and is generally considered annoying. The chair is part of the personal body space of the person who uses it. Stand next to the person’s wheelchair rather than lean or hold onto it.

When pushing a person using a wheelchair, let them know that you are ready to push. Do not go too fast and be aware of the distance between the chair and other people. When negotiating up or down steps, ramps, or curbs, ask the person how they would like to proceed.

Don’t be sensitive to words like “running” and “walking.” Don’t use terms like “wheelchair-bound,” “confined to a wheelchair” or “crippled.”

When speaking of them, emphasize the abilities of the person, rather than the disability. Note the difference in the following; uses a wheelchair (or braces, cane, crutches, etc.) vs. “confined” to a wheelchair, or “wheelchair-bound,” or “walks” with braces vs. “is crippled.”

Mobility Impaired

Try to walk alongside someone with mobility impairment, not in front.

Assume people who use artificial legs, canes and crutches can use the stairs in addition to elevators, unless they tell you otherwise.

Don’t use terms like “deformed.”

Don’t move someone’s crutches, walker, cane or other aid without permission.

Don’t make assumptions about what a person with mobility impairment or other type of physical disability can do.

Developmental Disabilities (Conditions that people are born with or acquire early in life)

Interact with the person with a developmental disability as a person first. Treat adults as adults.

Some individuals may benefit from presenting information in a clear, concise, concrete and simple manner. Sometimes supplementary forms of visual communication (such as gestures, diagrams or demonstrations are helpful).

When necessary, repeat information and use an alternate phrasing or a different communication approach. Allow time for the information to be fully understood.

When offering help, wait until your offer is accepted before doing anything.

Remember that a slow response or lack of response does not necessarily mean the person is not aware of you or what you said. Allow time for the individual to respond...either slowly or in their own manner.

Do not assume all people can read well. Some people may not read at all.

Cognitive Disabilities

If you are not being understood, adjust your method of communicating by using concrete, rather than abstract, simple, direct words and/or gestures, easy diagrams or demonstrations. For example, demonstrating how to use a phone card in a telephone. Allow time for the information to be fully understood.

Allow time for people who may respond slowly.


General access relates to these questions:

  • Can the individual with a disability get to the building (e.g., availability of reserved parking, curb cuts, accessible pathways, and ramps)?
  • Can the individual get into the building (e.g., availability of accessible landing, door openings, door widths (36 in.)?
  • Can the individual get to locations he or she needs to reach (e.g., availability of accessible pathways (36 in.) elevators, floor coverings)?
  • Can the individual find locations he or she needs to reach (e.g., availability of accessible signs and personal assistance)?
  • Once a location is reached, can the person use it (e.g., availability of accessible door widths, pathways, equipment, personnel office, rest rooms, telephone, cafeteria, water fountains, and safe and sturdy furniture)?

Lesson 5.5 Practical Assignment

To increase your awareness, tour your neighborhood to look for places that are adapted for physical disabilities and places that need to be improved. Some of the places you may wish to look include: grocery stores, gas stations, libraries, churches, restaurants, doctors offices, barber shops, beauty salons, banks, hotels, motels, etc.

Some of the items your might look for include:

1. Alternatives to stairs

2. Braille instructions

3. Wheelchair accessible curbs

4. Ease of opening doors (could a person with one arm open it?)

5. Width of doors (could a wheelchair fit through it? Don’t forget

bathroom stalls.)

6. Height of water fountains/sinks

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Unit 5 Quiz (7 Items)

1. Which one (1) of the following statements defines when it is

acceptable to use the word "handicap" instead of the word


A. When citing laws or regulations.

B. When referring to or describing a person.

C. Whenever one decides to use the term as a synonym for


D. To emphasize the fact that people with disabilities are not

conditions or diseases.

2. Receiving, processing and sending information to exchange

thoughts, feelings, wants and ideas, and to monitor changes in

our environment BEST defines the term ________.

A. survey

B. evaluation

C. communication

D. experimentation

3. According to Unit 5 of the training course, which two (2) of the

following are the major communication disabilities categories?

A. hearing impairments

B. mobility impairments

C. mental and learning disabilities

D. speech and language impairments

4. Which three (3) of the following are communication barriers?

A. background noise

B. assistive listening devices

C. poor lighting conditions

D. inadequate ventilation

E. visual aids (overheads, chalkboards)

5. Always identify yourself and others who may be with you when

greeting a person ________

A. in a wheelchair.

B. with a severe loss of vision.

C. who has a speech impairment.

D. who has a hearing impairment.

6. Allow a person with a visual impairment to take your arm ________

A. just below the wrist.

B. between the wrist and the elbow.

C. right under the armpit.

D. at or about the elbow.

7. According to Unit 5 of the training course, which one (1) of the

following is considered a "Don’t?"

A. When talking to a person who has a disability, speak directly

to that person and not through his or her companion.

B. Offer assistance to a person with a disability, but wait for

an answer BEFORE you help.

C. When speaking about parts of a building or parking, replace

"handicapped" with "accessible."

D. Assume that persons with disabilities do not want to work.