Interacting with Persons with Learning Disabilities

There are many simple things you can do to ensure effective and productive interactions with individuals with disabilities. The following are some practical tips for interacting with persons with learning disabilities.

What does it mean if someone has a learning disability?

The Learning Disabilities Association of Canada defines learning disabilities as follows:

“Learning Disabilities refer to a number of disorders which may affect the acquisition, organization, retention, understanding, or use of verbal or nonverbal information. These disorders affect learning in individuals who otherwise demonstrate at least average abilities essential for thinking and/or reasoning. As such, learning disabilities are distinct from global intellectual deficiency.”

The term learning disability covers a range of disabilities and can vary significantly in nature and in severity.

You probably won’t know that someone has a learning disability unless you’re told, but you may notice that the person is experiencing difficulty with communication (for example, receiving, expressing or processing information).

Suggestions for interacting with persons with learning disabilities

  • Patience, respect and a willingness to find a way to communicate are your best tools.
  • Speak normally, clearly and directly to the person in front of you.
  • Some people with learning disabilities may take a little longer to understand what you are saying and to respond, so exercise patience.
  • Listen carefully and work with the person to provide information in a way that will best suit their needs.
  • If you are not sure what to do, ask, “Can I help?”

Access Service, Student Academic Success Service, University of Ottawa. Minimizing the impact of learning obstacles: A guide for professors.