Top ten tips for communication – how to get better at speaking with people who have a learning disability

Who we are

My name is Ivan Cohen and I am a member of People First (Scotland). I am Chairperson of my local collective advocacy group and I also represent People First at the Inclusive Communication Hub Working Group.

People First (Scotland) is the independent self-advocacy organisation for people with learning disabilities. People First is run by and for us, the members – this makes us a Disabled Person’s User-Led Organisation. We have more than one thousand members and about one hundred local groups across Scotland. We are working to change the way the world sees people with learning disabilities; to change the way people with learning disabilities see themselves; and to influence laws and policies that affect us.

Top 10 Tips

These tips are for face-to-face or phone communication.

  1. Listen to us. Listen carefully.

Sometimes people with learning disabilities might not say what has happened in a straight forward way. Or they might use the words you are not used-to to describe something. This does not mean they are talking nonsense. Check with people as they go.

  1. Take us seriously.

People with learning disabilities have their views ignored at many points in their lives. Please don’t do it too.

  1. Please don’t talk in jargon. Use plain English.

Remember that some of the words that you will use all the time will still be jargon to us.

  1. Check that you have understood what we tell you and that we have understood what you tell us.

We might find it difficult to remember exactly what you tell us. It helps if you can say the important information a few times. Also some people with learning difficulties might say yes when asked if they understand, even if they do not. It is best to ask them to repeat back to you any important things.

  1. Don’t just ask the same question over and over.

If the person does not understand the question you are asking them. Try to ask it in a different way.

  1. Show us that you have time to hear what we have to say. Be patient.

People with learning disabilities may take a bit longer to give you the information you need. But rushing them or being impatient is not going to help.

  1. Please don’t patronise us.

We might do things a bit differently but we are still adults with the same right to live safely as anyone else.

  1. If we are the victim of a crime, please show us that you are on our side.

As a one-off, some things might not seem serious to you. But please remember that if someone is being harassed from, day to day these things make them feel trapped.

  1. Please don’t raise your voice or shout.

Shouting louder will not necessarily make you better understood.

  1. Be person-centered. Our ways of communicating are as individual as we are!

We hope that these tips will be useful to you as a guide. But remember you can ask someone what works best for them.