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Respectful Communication


There are many common and harmful stereotypes about people with intellectual disabilities in society.


For example, many people (mistakenly!) think that people with intellectual disabilities: 

  • are ‘like children’ 

  • need ‘special’ or separate services (like 'special' education)

  • cannot learn, work or be independent

  • are ‘suffering’ from their disability and are a 'burden' to their families

  • always need a ‘carer’ with them

Because these stereotypes are common, many people do not know how to act in an appropriate way when they first meet a person with an intellectual disability. 


Speak to adults with intellectual disabilities as adults, not children. 

Think about the language you use and speak clearly, but don't treat the person like a child.


Speak directly to the person with an intellectual disability.

Do not talk through their support person or family member. 

Do not talk about the person with an intellectual disability as if they are not there. 

If the person communicates in a way other than verbally, their support person may help  but it is important that you talk to the person directly. 


If you are meeting for the first time to work together, you can check accessibility needs and other reasonable adjustments in advance. 

For example;

  • a person may need to meet in a quiet place if they are sensitive to sound

  • they may need step free access to a building

  • they may need extra time to discuss information with a support person.


Help the person to feel comfortable by being friendly, polite and patient. 

Ask the person questions and give time to get to know one another. 

A person with an intellectual disability should be given the same respect as anyone else. 


Don't ask people questions about their disability. 

Remember that a person's disability and body is their personal business. 


Do not ask for details about a person's disability, the way their body moves, their health, or other personal information.


Involve support people or family members in your conversations, but recognise poor support. 


Support people and family members are often very important for people with intellectual disabilities. Their important work should be recognised and respected.

However sometimes people with intellectual disabilities receive poor support. For example if a support person talks over or interrupts the person they are supporting or talks about them as if they are not there.


If this happens try to deal with it in a polite way. You can also try to speak with the person with an intellectual disability separately about it. 

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