While our campuses remain closed to most students/staff, many services and supports are offered online via our COVID-19 Information Centre.

Recognizing a Disability

Deaf/Hard of Hearing
  • People with hearing loss may be deaf, oral deaf, deafened, or hard of hearing.
  • People with hearing loss may use devices including hearing aids, special telephones, sign language interpreters, amplifiers, or a pen and paper.
  • Attract the person's attention before speaking by a gentle touch on the shoulder or a wave of your hand.
  • When speaking to deaf or hard of hearing persons, make sure they can clearly see your face.
  • Never shout to try to make yourself understood.
  • If the person uses a hearing aid, try to reduce background noise or move to a quieter area.
Speech / Language
  • Difficulty in communicating verbally such as difficulty finding words or stuttering.
  • A person with severe speech or language disability may use a communication board or other device.
  • Be patient. Give the person the time they need to get their point across.
  • If possible, ask questions that can be answered with a "yes" or "no".
  • Don't interrupt or finish the person's sentences. Give them time to express themselves.


  • A person who is deaf-blind cannot see or hear to some degree.
  • A person may not be completely deaf and blind. Individuals who are deaf-blind may have some residual vision and/or hearing.
  • Speak directly to the person.
  • A person who is deaf-blind will explain to you how to talk with them.
  • People who are deaf-blind may have an intervenor, a professional who helps with communicating. Identify yourself to the intervenor when you approach.
  • Developmental or intellectual disabilities, ranging from mild to profound, can limit a person's ability to learn, communicate, perform everyday activities, and live independently.
  • It may be difficult to recognize someone who has this disability unless you are told.
  • Remember, not all disabilities are visible.
  • Use plain language and make sure the person understands what you've said. You can be direct and ask: "Do you understand this?"
  • Provide one piece of information at a time. Break down the information into simpler concepts but avoid exaggerated speech or gestures.
  • A variety of disabilities that affect how a person processes information.
  • The person may have difficulty reading material or processing information.
  • Take your time - people with learning disabilities may require more time to understand and respond.
  • Provide information in a way that best suits the person. Even using a pen and paper may help them review and absorb the information. Explain the information clearly and be prepared to repeat it.
Mental Health
  • Includes several disabilities ranging widely in severity, including; anxiety, depression, schizophrenia, and bipolar disorder.
  • Non-visible disabilities can be difficult to understand.
  • Reassure the person and listen carefully. Focus on meeting the person's needs. Remember, not all disabilities are visible.
  • Reassure the client that you are there to assist them.
Physical / Mobility
  • A wide range of disabilities that restrict body movement to varying degrees.
  • Physical disabilities may require people to use wheelchairs, walkers, canes, or other assistive devices.
  • People with physical disabilities often have their own way of doing things. Ask them how you can help. Remove items that are in the way.
  • Respect the person's personal space. Don't lean over them or on an assistive device.
  • When speaking to a person in a wheelchair for more than a minute, sit or crouch down to their eye level.
  • Never move devices such as canes or walkers out of the person's reach.
  • If you are assisting a person in a wheelchair, make sure they are ready to be moved and describe what you are going to do before moving them.
Vision Loss
  • Don't assume people with this disability are blind. Most people with this disability have some vision. They may have trouble reading signs, locating landmarks, or seeing hazards.
  • Some customers need a guide dog or white cane.
  • Others need to use a magnifier to view written materials.
  • Identify yourself to the person and speak directly to them.
  • Make written materials available in large print.
  • Guide them to a chair or a comfortable location. Don't walk away without saying good-bye.
  • Offer your elbow to guide the person. Wait for permission before starting to move. If they accept, walk slowly.
  • Identify landmarks or other details to help orient your customer.
Other Disabilities
  • Other disabilities, which may be temporary or chronic, visible or non-visible, include fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue syndrome, arthritis, kidney disease, allergies, cardiovascular problems, seizure disorders, cancer, diabetes, and HIV infections.
  • These disabilities may affect a person's cognitive and physical abilities.
  • Be patient when speaking to people with these disabilities.
  • Make sure equipment and supplies are close to the person.