Chapter 7: Effective and inclusive communication

7.1 Basic principles

  • Communication is a basic human right. Accessible methods of receiving and giving messages and information should be provided for effective and inclusive communication. It is realized when everyone can get their messages across.
  • Everyone should be welcomed and treat each other with dignity and respect.
  • Barriers should be removed. It should be recognized that there are different methods of communication other than speech in everyday communication.

7.2 General tips on how to interact with persons with disabilities

The following list is quoted and adapted from the Tips on how to communicate with persons with a disability, HKU.

  • Treat a person with a disability just like any other person.
  • Talk to people with disabilities in the same way as you talk to everyone else. Use the natural tone of voice as you speak to any other person. Do not patronize or talk down. Do not use particularly soft or loud tone.
  • Speak directly to people with disabilities even if they have companion(s), interpreter(s) and/or assistant(s) with them. Respect and treat their companions with courtesy.
  • Ask and understand their needs before helping people with disabilities. Uninvited help may sometimes be offensive. Ask them directly if you are uncertain about how to help. A good question to ask might be “May I help you? What can I do to help you complete (such as a task) successfully?” Do not be offended by a refusal. Respect their personal choice.
  • When you are accompanying people with disabilities, do not attempt to speak for people with disabilities unless they ask for help.
  • Do not focus on medical-related issues. If they would like to disclose their disability diagnosis or related issues to you, they will do so on their own.
  • Treat their assistive aids with respect.
  • Do not praise them for doing ordinary things. It may sound offensive as it assumes lower expectation of their capability.
  • Be understanding, empathetic and patient. Put yourself in their shoes and think about inclusive waysto communicate.

7.3 When meeting people with visual impairment

The following list is quoted and adapted from the:

  • Take the initiative to introduce yourself and those who are with you so that they know who they are talking to.
  • Speak to them directly and describe verbally what you are doing. Do not rely on eye contact or body gestures.
  • In case you want to leave your conversation with them for the moment, do tell them first.
  • Keep the passage and door area free from obstruction and tell them any changes about the location of objects. When objects have been moved to new and unfamiliar place(s), verbally describe the changes and walk with people with visual impairment around that place at least once to let them familiarize themselves with the new setting.
  • When showing them directions or locations, avoid using expressions like “here”, “there”, “this way”, or “that way”, and use expressions like “on your left” or “on your right” or clock directionYou may describe the directions or locations by using clock directions, e.g. “The library is at the three o’clock position and the canteen is at the eight o’clock position from your perspective.”
  • When walking with them, let them hold your upper arm or shoulder from behind. It helps them sense your body movements and follow you when going up or down or turn around. Please do not grab themwhen leading them.
    • Sight guide technique would definitely help, especially for buddy of students with visual impairment and security guard of the campus.
  • No need to avoid using words like “see” or “look”. These words are in general not taboos for people with visual impairment.
  • The proper way to help them be seated is to put their hand on the back of a chair so that they know where the seat is.

7.4 When meeting people with visual impairment with a guide dog

The following list is quoted and adapted from the Hong Kong Guide Dogs Association on the issues of “3 Don’ts and 1 Do”.

  • Don’t reject: Accept that guide dogs can have free access to public places and transportation, and private or public estates.
  • Don’t disturb: Do not pat a guide dog without permission from the user.
  • Don’t feed: Do not feed food of any kind to a guide dog.
  • Do enquire: When you come across a person with visual impairment and guide dog getting lost, do ask if the person needs help. Ask for permission from the user before you touch a guide dog.

7.5 When meeting deaf or hard of hearing people

The following list is quoted and adapted from the:

  • Ask the person for preferred methods of getting their attention when you want to initiate a conversation, e.g. moving into their visual field, waving your hands, or gently tapping on their shoulder. Do not shout at them in order to obtain their attention.
  • Talk to them directly even if there is a sign language interpreter or other companions.
  • Move away from background noise whenever possible. Make sure your face is not in shadow and that there are no strong lights or sunshine in their eyes.
  • Always face the person and make eye contact when speaking, but keep your distance. Being too close to them might affect the use of hearing-aids, lip-reading, or sign language communication. Avoid covering your mouth, chew gum, or look away, as it might affect lip-reading.
  • Speak at natural pace. Avoid speaking too slowly or too fast. Try to slow down when being requested by them.
  • Facial expressions and gestures may facilitate communication. However, do not exaggerate facial expressions or lip movements as this might hinder communication.
  • Repeat and re-phrase if necessary. Make good use of tools such as paper and pens; or technology such as text messaging to facilitate communication. Sometimes, drawing pictures might help.

7.6 When meeting people with mobility disability

The following list is quoted and adapted from the Tips on how to communicate with persons with a disability, HKU.

7.7 Multiple communication means

  • Assistive listening devices such as hearing loops should be available in lecture theatres and classrooms to assist students using hearing aids, e.g. teletypewriters TTYs, loop listener.
  • Sign language interpreters can facilitate the communication with deaf or hard of hearing individuals.
    • The Hong Kong Joint Council for People with Disabilities, The Hong Kong Council of Social Service, and Rehabilitation Advisory Committee jointly provides a list of sign language interpreters in Hong Kong who can provide sign language interpretation services for individuals and organizations.
  • Information technology and human support can facilitate effective communication.
  • More materials should be made available online as electronic materials can be more easily converted into alternative formats to suit individual needs.
  • University units should provide multiple modes of enquiry contact, e.g. email, phone-call, text messaging, or direct appointments at the office counter, to suit staff and students with different disabilities and accessibility needs.
  • Emails should be used as one of the mandatory dissemination channels of the announcement of both academic and non-academic information as this channel is particularly essential for students and staff with visual impairment (Hong Kong Blind Union, 2014). It would be easier for them to access information electronically with screen readers and screen magnifiers. Refer to Chapter 5.4 Web and multimedia accessibility.

7.8 Disability representation in images

  • Pay careful attention to the disability representation in images. Portray them as ordinary people in society as they are. Do not create an impression of separateness, specialness and dependence. Avoid focusing on their medical aspects or always being a passive recipient of help from others, e.g. a student with visual impairment being helped to cross the road or the wheelchair of a wheelchair-using student being pushed by a fellow classmate.
  • It is recommended that images reflect diversity. Show people with disabilities in everyday social situations and campus environment. For example, a picture on the university website showing a group of students walking around the campus may feature students with diverse characteristics to represent the inherent diversity, e.g. disability and skin colour.