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Is communicating with people with disabilities any different?

Updated: Jun 10, 2022

Background

According to WHO, over 1 million people live with some form of disability and the number is increasing at an alarming rate. The major contributing factors for the rapid increase are mainly growing life stress, chronic health conditions, and shift in the demographic trends of the global population.


United Nations’ goal for 2030 is a fully inclusive world where people with disabilities would have equal rights and freedom. This is a big shift from viewing people with disability as objects for charity to viewing them as subjects with full rights and empowering them to be able to claim those rights just like any other individual would do normally. Powerful, isn’t it?


In order to realise the importance of this 2030 goal of the UN, one must understand that a disability does not make a person any less capable of doing things in their own unique way and hence cannot be marginalised. Disability can occur to anyone during the course of their life. An individual living a normal life with no disability can suddenly encounter a tragic incident or an accident and can acquire a disability.


A change is required at an individual level besides just governments visualising a goal and imposing it. We all contribute to this change with our attitude, behaviour and communication styles and breaking those social stigmas that we have been carrying for so long. It is up to us to choose, whether we see the disability as a limitation or do we value a person as they are with all the unique qualities, gifts and abilities.


Communication or interaction style one may adopt while interacting with a person with a disability

For some people, communicating with a person with a disability can be unnerving and having no prior experience or exposure, they are feared of saying or doing something unusual that may upset the person with a disability.


It is ok to have such thoughts, but I would say that those are just self-talks and may not necessarily be true or valid. In order to do a great conversation, an important thing is to be able to listen, value and respect.


Drawing upon my years of experience in disability support service, I have seen interactions and communications where a person with a disability will be treated like a small child. Definitely one must sensibly adopt a style of communication that is appropriate and is easy for a person with a disability to understand, but it should be done no different than normal and must be done in an age-appropriate manner.