Tips for Treating Patients with Physical and Sensory Disabilities

We recognize providers and staff who contribute to making the System’s buildings and facilities accessible to patients with disabilities and who care for patients and/or family members with disabilities. The Education and Training Subcommittee of the ADA/Accessibility Steering Committee recently prepared a list of “Tips for Treating Patients with Physical and Sensory Disabilities.” These tips may be viewed below.

Remember to:

  • Speak directly with the patient, not to any companion that the patient may have.
  • Avoid making assumptions about what assistance the patient needs. Offer assistance, wait for offer to be accepted and wait for instructions.
  • Ask how you can help – respond professionally, and provide the assistance requested.   
  • Presume that patients with disabilities are competent to handle their own medical care. If patients do not have anyone to assist them, do not ask them whether they brought an aide or a companion.
  • Allow time for history taking and a thorough exam.
  • Use “person-first” language when referring to patients with disabilities (i.e. person who is blind, person who uses wheelchair, person with hearing loss) unless the patient asks to be referred to in another manner.
  • Don’t be afraid to ask the patient questions if you are unsure.

Patients who are Blind or Low Vision

  • Always verbally identify yourself when you approach and introduce other people in the room.
  • Do not leave without letting the patient know.
  • Ask before you help. Always ask how they would like to be assisted. Ask the person before you touch him/her to offer help.  
  • Avoid distracting side conversations as patients who are blind or low vision are very sensitive to all things auditory.
  • Be prepared to provide written materials in an auditory, tactile, or electronic format of the patient’s preference (CD, Braille, large print).
  • Verbally explain procedures before beginning treatment and ask the patients if they have any questions.
  • Tell the patient where personal affects (clothes and other belongings) are in the room and do not move them without telling the patient.
  • Staff should be welcoming and describe the physical environment (doors, steps, ramps, bathroom location, etc.).
  • Never distract or touch a service animal without asking the owner.  

Patients with Hearing Loss

  • Ask how best to communicate.
  • Be prepared to give written materials as long as they are not the primary form of communication.
  • Inform patients that sign language interpreting services are available.
  • If requested, promptly provide sign language interpreting for effective communication.
  • Do not talk at a distance from them or from another room.
  • Look directly at the patient when speaking so they can see your mouth.
  • Speak normally and clearly. Do not shout, exaggerate mouth movements, or speak rapidly.
  • Minimize background noise and glare.

Patients who are Deaf

  • Ask how best to communicate.
  • Make eye contact with patients who are deaf and hard of hearing. Be fully engaged when speaking with them as they are very visual and highly sensitive to our body language.
  • Inform patients that sign language interpreting services are available.
  • If requested, promptly provide sign language interpreting or real-time captioning service for effective communication.
  • Do not assume that all patients who are deaf or patients that prefer American Sign Language (ASL) can read or write English or another language.    
  • Family members should not be used to interpret.
  • Address the patient, not the interpreter.
  • Be prepared to give written materials as long as they are not the primary form of communication.

Wheelchair Users

  • Make sure there is a path of access to the room.
  • Respect personal space, including wheelchair and assistive devices.
  • Do not propel the wheelchair unless asked to do so.
  • Provide accessible equipment as needed.
  • Provide assistance as needed, such as by clearing obstacles from the path of travel or helping patients transfer to equipment if accessible equipment is unavailable.
  • Do not separate patients from their wheelchairs.
  • Do not examine patients while seated in their wheelchairs if the examination requires a person to lie down.


  • If you have any questions or need assistance in caring for patients with disabilities, please call:
    • Patient Representative Department at the site.
    • Nursing Supervisor at the Hospital or site.

“Access to Medical Care: Adults with Physical Disabilities,” World Institute on Disability, ISBN Number: 0-942799-08-0, Published 2011.  

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