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caregiver and young woman in wheelchair


Imagine living in a world where you want to talk to other people, but you cannot do so in a way that they understand, or where other people are talking to you and expecting you to reply but you don’t know what they are saying.

This is a common experience for many people with a learning disability. Up to 90 per cent of people with a learning disability have a difficulty that affects their expressive or receptive communication (Royal College of Speech and Language Therapists).

Under the Equality Act 2010, services have a responsibility to make reasonable adjustments to make their services accessible to people with diverse needs. This includes making adjustments for people with communication needs.

Here are some key tips for improving communication with people with learning disabilities:

  • always speak directly to the person, unless you are advised not to.
  • keep communication short and in plain English
  • ask if they have a communication passport or hospital passport. This may have advice on how best to communicate with them.
  • support your communication with visual support. This can be pictures, objects, or gestures.
  • ask if they use any adapted communication tools. Examples include Makaton, Picture Exchange Communication, communication apps, and objects of reference. If you are not able to use their tools ask if they have a supporter with them that can help.
  • give people time to process what you have said before they respond.
  • check understanding by asking open questions like “can you tell me what I just said?”
  • be mindful that people may try to give you the answer they think you want if they do not understand. Try rewording questions to see if they answer in the same way
  • minimise other distractions in the room to help people to concentrate.

Page last updated - 15/07/2023