Business Resources and Services from Disability Awareness Author / Speaker Gary Karp

Workplace Disability Etiquette

People with Speech Impairments

Man with CP using augmentative speechThere are people with nervous system characteristics which affect their speech. Cerebral palsy is one example of a disability which, for some, speech is affected because the muscles are not responsive in a way that supports "normal" speech. There are many other reasons why someone's speech might be affected: stroke, ALS, facial trauma, brain tumors, Parkinson's or Huntington's disease, stuttering, and others.

Impaired speech often gives the impression of lower intelligence. There is no correlation of this whatsoever. Take care not to treat a person with a
speech impairment in a patronizing way – which can only be a result of your own discomfort.

Here's the main thing to understand about speech impairment: we all have a right to express ourselves and be understood. We all deserve patience from others
for however we best need to express ourselves.

Photo: Melanie Hofmann
  • Do not complete someone's sentences.A Little More
  • If you didn't get it, ask them to repeat what they said.A Little More
  • NEVER just say, "Uh huh. OK. I see," if you didn't understand.A Little More
  • Repeat back what you did understand if you need to confirm it.A Little More
  • Allow them time to express themselves on their own terms.A Little More
  • A person for whom speech requires effort does not mince words. Exactly because it is an effort, they are more likely to take time to think before they speak – something many of us could take as an example!

    And if they are using an Augmentative Speech device, the same rules apply. Allow them the relaxed time it takes for them to speak in their own way, even when it's through a machine. It might be an electronic voice, but it's their heart and mind that is coming through it.


    We all want the right to express ourselves. Attempting to second guess what someone is trying to express only creates stress. And since you're likely to get it wrong, you've only made it necessary for them to tryto clarify themselves, making your communication unnecessarily ineffective.
    They WANT to repeat themselves if that's what it takes to be understood. You might think you are burdening them to ask, but from their perspective they want to know if you didn't get what they said – and want the chance to give it another shot
    You might think you're sparing them effort, but you're actually denying them communication. This is patronizing behavior, and conveys, essentially, that you don't value what they have to say.
    Often you will get a portion or the sense of what is being expressed. If you're not certain you understand, then repeat back what you thought you heard – or your sense of what was expressed.
    People with speech impairments have the same need you do – to be heard and understood. It is all the more precious to them because of how often they experience people not allowing them the pace which is natural for them to express them..