Talk Matters

People with disabilities are people first.

They are not defined by their conditions or diseases. Lack of awareness about disabilities can lead to unintended stereotypes and discrimination. The way we view and communicate with and about people with disabilities shapes our relationships. The way we refer to people with disabilities in our communication is important. For example, a person is not an “epileptic” but rather a “person who has epilepsy.” Putting the person first in our communications is not “political correctness,” it is showing respect for the dignity of the individual.

Click here to view the right and wrong ways of talking about a person with a disability.

General Tips for effective interactions:

  • When talking to a person with a disability, look at and speak directly to that person, rather than their companion.
  • Be considerate of people’s service animals. Some people who have disabilities may use a service animal. Do not pet or play with the animal as this activity may unsettle the person and may interrupt the animal from doing its assistive duties.
  • Avoid assuming the preferences and needs of people with disabilities. People with disabilities are individuals and thus have individual preferences and needs. Therefore, if you have the impression that a person needs help, ask the person if, and then how, you may be of assistance.
  • Communicate clearly and comprehensibly. As with all communication, an effective message is one that is spoken and/or written clearly and comprehensibly. This point is extremely important for people with disabilities who may have difficulty obtaining or comprehending messages. Be sure to convey your message in an understandable form and in multiple ways if necessary.
  • If you do not need to know about the specific nature of someone’s disability, do not ask about their disability. Your focus should be on what the person is communicating to you.
  • In your conversation, 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 seem to relate to the person’s disability. Don’t be afraid to ask questions when you are unsure of how to assist the person.
  • And above all, when in doubt over how you should treat us, always refer to the Golden Rule.

The Golden Rule is beautifully simple – treat others as you’d like to be treated.

At the end of the day, this is the only tip you need. If everyone referred the Golden Rule in all aspects of life, oh the world, we wouldn’t even recognize it.

Interacting with people with disabilities is only as hard as you make it.

‘Talking to and about people with a disability.’ Australian Federation of Disability Organisations

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