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Communicating Effectively with People with Disabilities

Communicating successfully is essential to providing services to the public or doing business. People with certain disabilities might communicate in different ways.

State/local governments, businesses, and nonprofit organizations must make sure they communicate effectively with people who have communication disabilities.

Because the nature of communication differs from situation to situation, effective solutions may differ too. For example, buying a car is more complex than buying dinner and requires different solutions.

The goal is to find a solution that fits the circumstances.


Read this to get a basic understanding of this topic.

Examples of Communication Aids and Services

  • American Sign Language interpreters
  • Video remote interpreting
  • Notetakers
  • Large print materials
  • Captioning
  • Accessible electronic and information technology
  • Other similar services and actions

Some solutions to communication barriers are relatively simple and straightforward:

Situation Solution
A person who is blind or has low vision wants to order food from a menu that is written on a chalkboard. Reading the menu out loud will help that person decide what they want to order.
In a retail setting, a person who is deaf or has hearing loss has a simple question about a product. Writing notes back and forth will help in answering simple questions.

Other solutions may be needed where the information being communicated is more extensive or complex.

Situation Solution
A person who is deaf or has hearing loss is attending a town or council meeting.

Effective communication could require:

  • sign language interpreter or
  • real time captioning

This will depend on whether the person uses sign language.

A law firm is emailing a legal document to a client who is blind. Providing an accessible electronic copy of the document will allow the client to read the draft at home using a screen reader.
A person who has low vision needs a long document, such as a city government's comprehensive emergency preparedness guide. Providing a large print or accessible electronic copy of the document are possible solutions.
A patient who uses sign language has a doctor's appointment to discuss a serious diagnosis and its treatment options. A sign language interpreter will generally be needed in this situation.

To learn more about communication aids and services, check out ADA Requirements-Effective Communication.

Choosing Communication Aids and Services

To decide what aid or service is needed to communicate effectively:

  • Consider the nature, length, complexity, and context of the communication.
  • Consider the person’s normal methods of communication. For example, sign language interpreters are effective only for people who use sign language.
    • Unless certain exceptions are met, state/local governments must give primary consideration to the person with a disability’s choice of communication aid or service. Learn more about exceptions and what primary consideration means in ADA Requirements: Effective Communication.
    • Businesses and nonprofits that are open to the public should work with the person with a disability whenever possible to decide what aid or service is appropriate.


You may require people who need aids or services to request them a reasonable amount of time in advance, based on the length of time you will need to get the aid or service

But a person might make a walk-in request for a communication aid or service. You still need to provide that aid or service as best you can.

Friends and Family as Interpreters

You may not require a person with a disability to bring their own interpreter. A family member or friend can serve as an interpreter in certain situations. Learn more in ADA Requirements: Effective Communication.

Sometimes a Specific Communication Aid or Service is Not Required

Businesses and state/local governments are not required to provide aids and services if providing them would place an “undue burden” on the business or government.

More about what undue burden means

An undue burden is a significant difficulty or expense. Whether an undue burden exists varies from business to business—or state/local government to state/local government— and sometimes from one year to the next.

For example, it might be an undue burden for a small retail store to provide a sign language interpreter without notice for a routine transaction. But the store may be able to use paper and pen to write back and forth to complete the transaction.

Communication aids or services are also not required in the rare situations where they would fundamentally alter the nature of the goods or services you provide to the public. Learn more in ADA Requirements: Effective Communication.

If an aid or service would result in an undue burden or fundamental alteration, an alternative aid or service needs to be provided if possible.

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