Obstacles to communication can arise because audiences can be quite diverse, with anything from hearing or vision impairment to different learning styles having a potential impact—a fact you need to be aware of anytime you’re presenting information to others. Fortunately, there are ways to overcome these obstacles, and many of the most helpful techniques, such as facing your audience as you speak, can benefit all audience members.
Universal design is intended to address the many differences we can encounter in communicating. Below are some tips to help you consider how to design your communication for more universal impact.
During conversation, there are a few things to keep in mind:
- When speaking to someone who has a speech impairment, don’t simply pretend to understand—ask for clarification when needed. Don’t let sensitivity become an obstacle to learning.
- If you are speaking to someone who has an interpreter or aide, don’t focus on the helper. It is more respectful to address your conversation partner directly, rather than the interpreter or aide.
In unfamiliar settings, be prepared to interact with a broad variety of special needs. Following are a few general guidelines to ensure you include all audience members.
- Make sure the room can accommodate individuals with physical limitations (e.g., wheelchairs or walkers).
- Make sure you also have room for any interpreters or aides.
- Use multiple means of delivery. For example, use visual aids such as posters or charts when giving a speech. This will assist the hearing impaired, as well as those with an attention deficiency.
- Describe visual aids to assist the visually impaired.
- Make sure any printed handouts you use are also available in electronic format so the text can be enlarged or narrated with text-to-speech software. Files ending in “.doc” or “.docx” are the safest; text-based “.pdf” files will also work.
- Supplement oral expression with slides or diagrams for the hearing impaired.
- Help attention-deficient audience members stay engaged by being lively and animated when you speak.
- Face the audience and stay still while speaking so audience members can lip-read.
- Keep facial hair trimmed to make lip reading easier.
- Repeat your main points in your conclusion and leave time for audience members to ask questions.
Davis, Barbara Gross. Tools for Teaching. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 1993.