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Written by Rebecca Bardenhagen, M.Ed. and Lakshmi Mahadevan, Ph.D.

As service providers who work with special needs populations, you strive to make your clients feel comfortable and accepted during each meeting. To aid you in providing the best experience you can when meeting with clients we have come up with a few tips and ideas.


1. Make sure your office is accessible to those with special needs.

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) stipulates that buildings must be accessible to those with disabilities by providing them equal access to public facilities. The building in which you work is likely built to be accessible or has been modified to be accessible. It is also important to consider the physical layout of your office. Some accessibility factors to consider include (University of California, Santa Cruz, 2018):

  • Ensure a clear pathway through the door and into the office.
  • Ensure a clear area where someone in a wheelchair can turn around.
  • No objects hanging overhead nor objects protruding from the walls.
  • Have written materials available in large print.
  • Refrain from wearing perfume or other heavily scented products.
  • Make sure your work area is well lit; adjustable lighting may be helpful.
  • Provide comfortable seating and room to move around if needed.


2. Use people first language.

People first language recognizes the person before recognizing the disability. It recognizes that there are more similarities between us than differences. Some examples of people first language include (Texas Council of Developmental Disabilities, n.d.):

  • Emphasize abilities not limitations.
  • Tell what a person has not what a person is (“He has autism” as opposed to “He is autistic”).
  • Do not talk about disabilities as challenges that need to be overcome.
  • Avoid using negative words such as “afflicted,” “unfortunate,” or “victim.”


3. Find out about programs and resources available at your center as well as in your community.

Knowing the policies, practices and programs available both in your center as well as in the community will help families be directed to the resources they need. It may be helpful to prepare a list of helpful resources, websites, and phone numbers so that families can access needed resources quickly.


4. Make sure to include the person with the disability in the conversation.

A person-centered approach to thinking and planning with special populations means that the person is involved in conversations about their present and future. This approach means respect is given to really listening to what a person wants and desires out of life. In this way, people are able to freely express themselves. As a result, individuals, with the help of others, can find ways to lead the life they prefer, be more independent, and be an active member of society (Allen, 2002).


5. Be aware of how to communicate effectively.

 When meeting with a client, keep the following in mind (Vanderbilt Kennedy Center, 2018):

  • Allow for plenty of time for the meeting.
  • Allow for a longer wait time for answers than you may normally give someone.
  • Understand that some people are able to hear and understand what you are saying better than they are able to express themselves.
  • Check the person’s comprehension of what was discussed to make sure important information was understood.
  • Involve another family member/caretaker in the conversation to better understand what is being communicated.
  • Meet in a quiet area free from distractions.


Every client you meet with will have unique needs, therefore it will be necessary to tailor accommodations for each individual. The goal is to treat everyone with respect and show them that their specific needs are not a barrier to helping them get the services and information that they need.

Use this checklist to self-assess ways in which you accommodated the needs of your clients.

You can download a printable version of this checklist here: Are You Accommodating the Needs of Your Clients?




Allen, W. (2002). It’s My Choice. Retrieved on March 19, 2018.

Texas Council of Developmental Disabilities (n.d). People First Language. Retrieved on March 19, 2018.

University of California, Santa Cruz (2018). Disability Accommodations and Resources.  Retrieved on March 19, 2018.

Vanderbilt Kennedy Center for Excellence in Developmental Disabilities (2018). Communicating Effectively. Retrieved on April 77, 2018.


This MFLN-Military Caregiving concentration blog post was published on May 11, 2018.