Interacting with Persons with Speech-Related Disabilities
There are many simple things you can do to ensure effective and productive interactions with individuals with disabilities. The following are some practical tips for interacting with persons with speech-related disabilities.
What does it mean if someone has a speech-related disability?
Some people have difficulties with speech, such as forming and reproducing vocal sounds, articulation challenges, or an unusual fluency pattern. These difficulties could be due to cerebral palsy, hearing loss, or another condition that makes it difficult to pronounce words. A speech-related disability may cause slurring or stuttering that can prevent individuals from expressing themselves clearly; it is not related to intellectual capacity. Some persons with speech-related disabilities may use communication boards or other assistive devices, or they may be accompanied by a communication support person.
Suggestions for interacting with persons with speech-related disabilities
Patience, respect and a willingness to find a way to communicate are your best tools.
If you haven’t understood, do not pretend that you have; ask the person to repeat the information.
Whenever possible, ask questions that can be answered with a “yes” or a “no.”
Avoid speaking excessively slowly or loudly; such adjustments are not necessary for most persons with speech-related disabilities.
Allow for silence to give the individual time to respond to a question. The person may simply need time rather than further explanation of the question.
Avoid making remarks such as “slow down,” “take a breath” or “relax.” This will not be helpful and may be interpreted as demeaning.
Avoid finishing the person’s sentences or guessing what is being said. This can increase his or her feelings of self-consciousness and sometimes make it worse. Wait for the person to finish before you respond.
If you are not sure what to do, ask, “Can I help?”