Individual Communication Strategies
The main focus of these resources is the various media and tools available to ensure effective, complete health communication in multiple formats. However, it is of paramount importance that health care providers and organizations know how to best communicate personally with an individual or individuals with a disability or disabilities. The following strategies are recommended to help make communications with individuals with visual, auditory, mobility, cognitive, and/or speech disabilities efficient and effective.
While these strategies should serve as a helpful baseline, following them will not guarantee effective communication. If at any point during interactions with an individual or individuals with a disability or disabilities there is any discomfort or uncertainty regarding what and/or how something is being communicated, simply ask the person what can be done to relax and improve the communication process.
When communicating with individuals that are blind or visually impaired:
- Speak to the individual as you approach him or her.
- Clearly state who you are.
- Use a normal tone of voice.
- When giving direction or information, be descriptive—confirm that your message has been fully understood by the individual.
- When communicating in a group, identify yourself and the person to whom you are speaking by name.
- Tell the individual when you are leaving his or her presence.
When communicating with Deaf individuals or individuals who are hard of hearing:
- Respect which community (Deaf or hard of hearing) the individual identifies with.
- Gain the individual’s attention before starting the conversation (gentle tap on the shoulder or arm, flicking on and off of a light, etc.).
- Face the individual directly while communicating, even if they use an interpreter.
- Speak in a non-exaggerated manner with a normal tone of voice.
- Stand in a position that allows your face to be illuminated.
- Do not touch your face while speaking.
When communicating with individuals with a mobility disability:
- Try to put yourself at eye level with the individual.
- If communicating while on the move, allow the individual to set the pace. If he or she is using a wheelchair, do not assume he or she wants to be pushed.
- If communicating via phone or at the individual’s door, allow him or her additional time to answer.
When communicating with individuals with a cognitive disability:
- If possible, communicate in a quiet, calm area that is as free of distractions as possible.
- Be prepared and willing to repeat what you say multiple times in multiple formats (orally, in writing, typed, etc.). Try to use shorter words with fewer syllables and descriptive pictures to convey messages.
- Be patient and take time to affirm that the individual understands the message being communicated.
- Offer assistance regarding information (completing forms, reading instructions, providing consent, etc.) and allow as much time as necessary for decision-making.
- Allow the individual time to accept your assistance before giving it, and do not confuse acceptance as consent to do everything for the individual.
When communicating with individuals with a speech disability:
- Do not pretend to understand an individual if you do not.
- If needed, ask an individual to repeat information multiple times and/or in multiple formats, and repeat it back to ensure the full message has been communicated.
- If possible, try to keep specific interactions short on the part of the individual (ask questions that require short answers/explanations).
- Do not speak for the individual and/or attempt to finish his or her sentences.