Tips for Public Information Officers

Communicating with and about People with Disabilities

Tips for Public Information Officers imageLanguage

  • Use short, simple, and easy to understand sentences. This helps people with cognitive disabilities, developmental disabilities, and non-native English speakers. In a disaster, everyone benefits from direct, simple and clear instructions.
  • Use appropriate, people-first language. Avoid terms that are obsolete, patronizing or offensive. For example, use person using a wheelchair instead of “wheelchair-bound”, the disability community or people with disabilities instead of “those with special needs”, “physically challenged”, or “the disabled”. It is ok to use terms like Deaf, Blind, Hard of Hearing, or People with Low Vision. Avoid terms like “vulnerable populations”. Instead, use the term people with access and functional needs for emergency notifications.

Press Conferences

  • Ensure that televised announcements broadcast by local and national news media have closed captioning available.
  • Include an American Sign Language (ASL) interpreter as part of your press conference when the information presented is about public safety and of importance to the entire City. Position the ASL interpreter immediately next to the speaker and ensure that they are both visible in the screenshot.
  • Describe verbally any information that is depicted graphically during a presentation. This way you ensure that individuals who are unable to see get the same critical information. Example: “This map shows the evacuation route should be North on Van Ness Ave to Lombard Street”.

Electronic media

  • Websites: Make sure that your websites are formatted to be read by a screen reader in compliance with Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act. When posting PDFs as links or attachments, make sure that they are accessible. This means also adding “alt tags” or text descriptions to any graphics, photos or diagrams.
  • Emails: Don’t rely only on an attachment to convey your message. Copy and paste all of the important information into the body of the e-mail text when communicating with the public via email blasts. See Mayor’s Office Press Releases as an excellent example. If attachments are included, please ensure that they are screen reader accessible and that all graphics, photos, or diagrams have “alt tags”.


Resources for Effective Communication