ATC Communication Guidelines

Last updated: May 1, 2023

Treat people with disabilities with the same respect and consideration with which you treat others. There are no strict rules when it comes to relating to people with disabilities. However, here are some helpful hints.

General Guidelines

  • Ask a person with a disability if they need help before providing assistance.
  • Talk directly to the person with a disability, not through the person’s companion or interpreter.
  • Refer to a person’s disability only if it is relevant to the conversation. If so, refer to the person first and then the disability. “A man who is blind” is better than “a blind man” because it emphasizes the person first.
  • Avoid negative descriptions of a person’s disability. For example, “a person who uses a wheelchair” is more appropriate than “a person confined to a wheelchair.” A wheelchair is not confining: it’s liberating!
  • Always ask permission before you interact with a person’s guide dog or service dog.

Visual Impairments

  • Be descriptive for people with visual impairments. Say, “The computer is about three feet to your left,” rather than “The computer is over there.”
  • When guiding people with visual impairments, offer them your arm rather than grabbing or pushing them.

Learning Disabilities

  • If asked, read instructions to individuals who have specific learning disabilities.

Mobility Impairments

  • Try to sit or otherwise position yourself at the approximate height of people in wheelchairs when you interact.

Speech Impairments

  • Listen carefully. Repeat what you think you understand for confirmation, and then ask the person with a speech impairment to repeat the portion of what was said that you didn’t understand.

Deaf and Hard of Hearing Users

  • Face people with hearing impairments so they can see your lips. Speak clearly.
  • Consider the use of transparencies or slides rather than writing on a whiteboard or flipchart so that participants with hearing impairments can read your lips.

Psychological Disabilities

  • Provide information in clear, calm, and respectful tones.
  • Provide information in alternate means (e.g., written, spoken, diagrams).