Communicate and consult with people with a disability

When conducting consultation and engaging with stakeholders it is important to actively include people with a disability.

Communication is one of the most basic needs and rights of all people.

People with a disability should have as much input into the planning and development of services and activities as other community members.

  • Communicating with people with disabilities

    In general:

    • Speak to a person with a disability as you would speak to anyone else, using an age-appropriate tone - treat adults as adults
    • If a person with a disability is accompanied by another person such as a carer, address your questions directly to the person with a disability
    • Put the person first, not their disability, for example use the term 'a person with a disability' rather than 'a disabled person'
    • Try to avoid negative phrases such as 'suffers from' and 'crippled'. Use the phrase 'people who use a wheelchair' rather than 'wheelchair bound'.

    Communicating with people with physical disabilities

    • Remember that a person’s personal space can include their wheelchair and crutches. Do not touch or push a person’s wheelchair or move their crutches or walking stick without their permission
    • When speaking with a person who uses a wheelchair, try to find something to sit on in order to be at eye level with them.

    Communicating with people with a vision impairment

    • When you meet people who have a vision impairment, always address them by name and introduce yourself by name
    • Speak clearly and in a normal voice - there is no need to raise your voice
    • Remember that people with a vision impairment cannot rely on the same visual cues as people who do not have a vision impairment
    • Make sure you verbalise any thoughts or feelings
    • If a person is accompanied by a guide dog, do not pat it, feed it or otherwise distract it while it is in a harness - a dog in a harness is working
    • When you enter or leave a room, say something that indicates your presence once you are in the room, or when you are leaving it. This ensures that the person who has a vision impairment will not be embarrassed by speaking to an empty space.

    Organisations that can provide communication services for vision impairment

    • The Adobe Accessibility Resource Centre contains a range of resources. Resources include online tutorials and a guide for creating accessible PDF documents, spreadsheets and images
    • Blind Citizens Australia can provide advice and assistance in preparing material for people with a vision impairment 
    • Vision Australia Radio is a network of community radio stations that provide news, information and entertainment for people who are unable to read the standard printed word - formerly known as 3RPH
    • Vision Australia can provide information in large print, braille and audio formats. It also provides an audio description service for film clips.

    Communicating with people with a hearing impairment

    • Gain the person’s attention before speaking - try a gentle tap on the shoulder, a wave or some other visual signal to gain attention
    • Face the person directly and maintain eye contact
    • Make sure your mouth is visible - remember not to cover your mouth with your hand or any other object as you talk
    • Look directly at the person while speaking and speak evenly - not too fast or slow
    • Don’t exaggerate your mouth movements as this will make it more difficult to lip-read
    • Use short sentences
    • Keep your volume up and natural - don’t shout.

    Organisations that can provide communication services for hearing impairment

    Advice and equipment

    • Better Hearing Australia hires hearing augmentation systems to support people with a hearing impairment to access meetings and events. It also provides hearing impairment awareness training
    • Word of Mouth Technology supplies teletypewriters (TTY) and hearing augmentation systems.

    Interpreters and notetakers

    • Auslan Services provides support with booking Australian Sign Language (Auslan) interpreters and notetakers. It also runs deaf awareness training sessions
    • Echo Interpreting provides support with booking Auslan interpreters and notetakers
    • Expression Australia can provide Auslan interpreters and notetakers.

    Telephone relay services

    National Relay Service is an Australia-wide telephone access service that relays calls. People with speech and hearing impairment can contact anyone through the National Relay Service. They can use a teletypewriter (TTY) or a computer with internet access.

    Communicating with people with an intellectual disability

    • Before talking, ensure you have the person’s attention - try using their name or eye contact to make sure you have their attention
    • Keep your questions simple and your answers easy to understand
    • Remember that your body language is important, as people with an intellectual disability often rely on visual cues
    • Be prepared to use visual information or to receive visual information from people with an intellectual disability
    • Be specific and direct - avoid talking using abstracts, acronyms, metaphors or puns.

    Resources for communicating with people with communication or speech difficulties

    • Communication Aids Users Society can provide support with producing information for people with communication or speech difficulties. This includes producing materials in easy English. It can also assist with consultations with people with communication or speech difficulties. For more information, see Communication Rights Australia.
    • Scope's Communication and Inclusion Resource Centre has an accessible information unit that specialises in easy English, plain language and other accessible written information. The unit is also experienced in training, consultancy, peer support and partnering with organisations and businesses to provide written information in accessible formats.
    • ComTEC Services offers services throughout Victoria to people of all ages with a disability who have communication and technology needs. The ComTEC team consists of speech pathologists and occupational therapists. They have expertise in communication and technology for people with a disability. 
  • Inclusive consultation and engagement

    When conducting consultation and engaging with stakeholders it is important to include people with a disability. By making a few changes to existing consultation processes, you can obtain the views of people with a disability - the results will be more representative of the wider community.

    Why undertake consultation and engagement?

    A dynamic and reflective organisation will seek the views of stakeholders and the broader community.

    Input is often sought to:

    • Generate ideas or seek feedback on available options
    • Inform the planning and development of activities, policies and programs
    • Inform and gauge the satisfaction of service users and customers about programs, services and facilities. This helps understand what is working well, what needs to be improved and how to make improvements
    • It is important to include people with a disability when consulting as they may have distinct requirements. They also have diverse experiences of accessing services.

    What is inclusive consultation and engagement?

    Inclusive consultation and engagement:

    • Adopts flexible approaches for consultation to suit individuals and groups
    • Takes into account a variety of access and communication requirements
    • Respects people’s differences - just because two people have the same disability does not mean their requirements are the same
    • Provides people with equal opportunity to contribute.
  • Why it's important to consult with people with a disability

    When conducting consultation and engaging with stakeholders it is important to include people with a disability. They might have distinct requirements. They might have diverse experiences of accessing and using services. People with a disability may also have experienced discrimination due to policies or practices.

    People with a disability can be under-represented in some consultation or data collection processes. This can create the perception they are not interested in having access to mainstream services or programs. But, in reality, it might actually mean the service was not accessible to people with a disability.

    By making a few changes to your existing consultation processes, the results of consulting people with a disability can have a powerful influence on identifying and addressing gaps and barriers to participation. It can help increase access to programs, services and facilities to a broad range of community members.

    Disability Action Plans

    Organisations developing Disability Action Plans are encouraged to consult internally and externally with people with a disability. This will help when reviewing what prevents people with a disability from using their programs, services and facilities.

    The organisation can also consult to identify actions to improve access and inclusion. Consultation can be used to inform how well actions are being implemented. It can also help test outcomes and impacts.

    For more information, see Disability Action Plans (DAPs).

    Representation on committees

    Requesting people with a disability to join a committee for stakeholder engagement and consultation is different from broad community consultation. Committees might include an advisory or reference group.

    The aims for this type of engagement and the role of participants must be made clear. There are many variables including:

    • Whether the committee has decision-making responsibility
    • If the person is contributing as an individual or representing others
    • How and why the information will be used.

    The cost of participation in this type of consultation should be considered. This could include:

    • Reimbursement of taxi or public transport fares
    • Meals and catering
    • Overnight accommodation if location is a distance from home
    • Sitting fees.

    Consulting with carers and families

    Obtaining input from carers and family members of a person with a disability needs to be considered in the context of the person’s age. Input needs to be sought directly from adults with a disability in the first instance.

    Consulting families and carers is appropriate when children with disability are involved. It is also appropriate when an adult with a disability provides permission for consulting with their family or carer. Families and carers can often be effective facilitators when a person has complex communication requirements.

    Consulting directly with family members is also appropriate when an organisation wants a family or carer perspective. But it should be in addition and not instead of the perspective of people with a disability.

    Consulting with disability organisations

    Consulting with disability support and advocacy organisations can be very useful. These groups are a good source of information to assist organisations in planning a consultation so it will be inclusive and effective.

    They can offer specific expertise relating to different types of disability and accessible practice. They are also a rich source of feedback about the barriers commonly experienced by people with a disability in accessing programs, services and facilities.

    Disability organisations can often be connectors to individuals with a disability and networks of people with a disability in local communities. They can also often be effective communication facilitators. They can assist in communication with people with a disability who may have complex communication needs.

    Identifying as having a disability

    When conducting consultation it is important to provide an opportunity for participants to self-identify as having a disability. It will help inform the experience of people with a disability in accessing an organisation’s programs, services or facilities. It will also help show how their experience differs from those who do not have a disability.

    Feedback may also report whether any changes that have been made are having a positive impact.

    Customer base

    Organisations can use the consultation process to gain a better understanding of who their customers are. They can also learn about who is being overlooked or is missing out. This can include the collection of some demographic profile data such as the number of customers with a disability.

    Reporting back

    Feedback from the organisation to consultation participants is to be provided wherever possible. How information is reported and communicated to participants should be considered when planning consultation. When in doubt, ask participants to indicate their preferred format for receiving feedback.

  • How to consult with people with a disability

    Methods of regular and ongoing consultation and engagement

    • Regular suggestion boards or boxes for satisfaction comments and improvements
    • Feedback and scoring sheets
    • Incorporation of verbal and/or visual opportunities for feedback
    • An open-door policy encouraging people to approach a representative or independent body to provide feedback and suggestions
    • Availability and promotion of accessible complaints processes
    • Representation of people with a disability in advisory and reference groups
    • Accessible interactive websites and online forums.

    Consultation and engagement methods that suit single issues or tasks

    • Accessible surveys - these can be online, email, postal, phone or face-to-face. Alternative format surveys can include easy English with photos or symbols
    • Interviews - these can include face-to-face, telephone or video conferences
    • Paired interviews
    • Focus groups with an independent facilitator
    • Regular service user groups
    • Citizen workshops or juries - panels who meet to discuss their views
    • Employing people with a disability to interview and facilitate feedback or focus group sessions
    • Targeted consultation forums
    • Public meetings
    • Mystery shoppers recruited by an organisation to use their services just like a regular customer.

    Promoting consultations to draw input from people with a disability

    Consider more than one promotion or advertising approach to ensure as many people as possible can participate. Examples include promoting consultation using:

    • Different accessible print and electronic formats
    • A variety of online methods, including government, corporate and community websites
    • Mainstream media, such as local newspapers, corporate and community radio. Include media produced by culturally and linguistically diverse groups
    • Disability-specific media such as newsletters published by disability peak bodies, advocacy organisations and support agencies
    • Community organisations and networks not associated with disability
    • Regional and local government works and bodies such as Access for All Ability providers, metro and rural deaf access workers, arts and cultural development officers and disability advisory groups.
    • Postings to colleges, universities and industry-based organisations where people with a disability may be studying or working.


    How you convey information about a consultation is important. It affects whether participants feel valued and welcomed or discouraged.

    Consultations don’t necessarily have to be promoted as having a disability focus for them to be inclusive for people with a disability. Organisations can promote features such as being an inclusive organisation and being an equal opportunity employer. They can also stress they welcome all members of the community to provide input.

    Providing good access also highlights an inclusive attitude, examples include:

    • Invite people with a disability to request any access requirements such as an Auslan interpreter or attendant carer
    • Provide information and associated materials in readable standard print
    • State that accessible alternative format documents are available upon request.

    Identifying as having a disability

    When engaging with stakeholders and conducting consultation it is important to provide an opportunity for participants and respondents to self-identify as having a disability. It will inform how the experience of people with a disability accessing an organisation’s programs or services differs.

    Such feedback may also report whether any improvements an organisation makes are having a positive impact. Consultation methods should provide an opportunity for self-identification.

    Some people may choose not to disclose having a disability. That is their right.

    Consultation preparation

    When preparing for a consultation, make sure you:

    • Are clear of the purpose, the target group and chosen methodology
    • Give adequate notice of any public sessions by advertising well in advance
    • Provide advertisements and invitations in readable standard print and be ready to provide them in accessible formats upon request
    • Facilitators are aware of the access and communication needs of people with a disability
    • Conduct public meetings or targeted forums at appropriate times. For example, you need to be mindful that people with attendant carers or who use accessible taxis may find it difficult to attend events at certain times of the day
    • Provide invitees with the opportunity to notify a contact person if they have any particular access requirements, such as attendant carers or Auslan interpreters
    • Consider offering child care
    • Consider providing catering - adding together transport times and consultation time, the participant can easily be away from home for more than three hours.

    Accessible formats and venues

    When choosing a venue and preparing information for the session, make sure you:

    • Select accessible venues. Venues should have clear signage, wheelchair access, stairways with handrails, and installed hearing loops or make portable hearing loops available. They should also be close to public transport and have parking bays close to the venue
    • Inside the venue, ensure that toilets are accessible. The venue should also have wide hallways and doorways. There should be sufficient circulation space for wheelchairs
    • Ensure that the area where speakers will address the audience is accessible, including podiums or stages
    • Ensure that any overhead slides are in large font and contain high contrast colours. Where possible, provide a handout or email copies of the slides to audience members beforehand
    • Ensure any written materials use a readable standard print. Produce some handouts in an accessible format such as large print
    • Provide name tags with large printing
    • Reserving seats near the front of the venue will help people with a vision impairment to participate and will assist people with a hearing impairment to lip read or view a sign language interpreter.
    • Check that the venue can reserve or allocate seating for people who use a wheelchair. These seats should be situated throughout the audience and not just limited to the front or back of the venue
    • If using microphones, use roving or lapel microphones, rather than a fixed microphone stand
    • Consider the use of a free call number to reduce the cost of participation.