What is the best way to communicate with people with disabilities?

Suzanne Robitalle
Health Education
To add to what Challenge America says (and great tips, by the way) I would just add that in my experience the person with the disability will let you know what they can or cannot do - let him or her lead. If they can shake your hand, they will put their hand/elbow/finger/prosthetic out to shake yours. Don't assume a blind person needs help walking - ask first verbally, if you think they might. (Except in a case where the person is in danger.) People with disabilities are used to asking for assistance, and will do so if they need it. For a deaf person, speak clearly but there's no need to over-enunciate; most of us are very good at lip-reading, even from the side. Hope this helps. Happy to answer any specific questions too.


Hello from Cleon aka CJ

For my disabled clients I use the following methods:

1. Treat them like any normal human being when it comes to interaction.  They are very aware of their situation and once you have made it clear that you are aware as a professional utilize the same motivational tactics that you would use for anyone else.  in my experience with disabled clients, they thrive for a sense of being just like everyone else.  To clarify we are talking about physical disabilities not mental.

2. Provide a safe environment for them.  Be conscious that like any other client. Disabled people want to know that you have made the best attempt at keeping your gym safe, clean, and functional for them. 

3. Have some background knowledge of the disability before you physically meet your client.  It shows that you care.  Don't be afraid to read up on related topic.  Remember the difference between a professional and an armature is the pro is resourceful.

4. Never leave them unattended and be sure you have the appropriate restroom accommodations for them.  

You don't have to be a fighter to feel like one. So Let's Train!


Use the following tips for communicating with people with disabilities:
  • When talking with a person with a disability, speak directly to that person rather than through a companion or sign language interpreter.
  • Use "person-first language" such as "person with a disability." Avoid the terms "handicapped," "disabled" and "impaired."
  • When introduced to a person with a disability, offer to shake hands. People with limited hand use or who wear an artificial limb can usually shake hands.
  • When meeting a person who is visually impaired, always identify yourself and others who may be with you. When conversing in a group, remember to identify the person to whom you are speaking.
  • It is okay to offer assistance, and it is often welcome. If the offer is accepted, listen to or ask for instructions.
  • Address people who have disabilities by their first names only when extending the same familiarity to all others. Never patronize people who use wheelchairs by patting them on the head or shoulders.
  • Leaning on or hanging on to a person's wheelchair is similar to leaning on or hanging on to a person and is generally considered annoying. The chair is part of the personal body space of the person who uses it.
  • Listen attentively when you're talking with a person who has difficulty speaking. Be patient and wait for the person to finish, rather than correcting or speaking for the person. If necessary, ask short questions that require short answers, a nod or shake of the head. Never pretend to understand if you are having difficulty doing so. Instead, repeat what you heard and allow the person to respond.
  • When speaking with a person who uses a wheelchair or a person who uses crutches, place yourself at eye level in front of the person to facilitate the conversation.
  • To get the attention of a person who is deaf, tap the person on the shoulder or wave your hand. Look directly at the person and speak clearly, slowly, and expressively to determine if the person can read lips. For those who do lip read, be sensitive to their needs by placing yourself so that you face the light source.
Treat others as you would wish to be treated: with respect and consideration.

Continue Learning about Developmental Disorders

What should I do if I think my child has a learning disability?
Anthony L. Komaroff, MDAnthony L. Komaroff, MD
There are a few steps you can take. You might:Discuss how your child is doing in school with his tea...
More Answers
What is developmental receptive language disorder?
NewYork-Presbyterian HospitalNewYork-Presbyterian Hospital
Some people have trouble understanding certain aspects of speech. It's as if their brains are set to...
More Answers
Why Do Some People with Autism Have Both Developmental Disorders and Remarkable Abilities?
Why Do Some People with Autism Have Both Developmental Disorders and Remarkable Abilities?
How to Spot Dyslexia in Young Kids
How to Spot Dyslexia in Young Kids

Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.