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Effective workplace communication with employees with an intellectual disability


Talking about teams and workmates

Being part of a team and understanding what teamwork means are important in all workplaces. Helping people to develop the behaviours and attitudes that contribute to a team approach is an ongoing task.

Working involves getting on with others. We expect people to work cooperatively and contribute as team members. These skills involve quite complex abilities and are often difficult for people with intellectual disabilities. Some of these difficulties can be caused by:


Jasper is 39 years old, has worked in all the areas at Merrinvale and is generally held to be one of the 'best' workers. He is very articulate and independent and few people would recognise he has any sort of intellectual disability. In fact, Jasper has quite pronounced problems remembering things, ordering information and problem solving. He needs frequent cues to remind him, and a highly structured work schedule to keep him on track.

Jasper's main problem is accepting he has limitations. When faced with something he can't do, he tends to just back away and leave it, without telling his supervisor. He also dislikes working with people he perceives to be 'disabled', saying, 'There's no point working with "those people", they can't do it'. It is getting harder to accommodate Jasper as a solo worker and to know how to deal with the attitudes he expresses about his fellow employees.

From Nathan's diary

I had a call from Mirri's mother. She said Mirri was very upset last night because Matt had pushed her out of her seat on the bus and made very rude gestures to her all the way home.

When I asked him why he had been so nasty to Mirri. He just let out that high-pitched laugh he has. He held his finger up and said, 'one', and smiled. I told him his behaviour was inappropriate.


  1. Don't talk 'teams'. It's too abstract. Talk about specific behaviours that make up good teamwork. 'Hey guys, we're a team' doesn't mean much if the only thing the word 'team' means to you is your favourite footy team. Start with something that is related to the workplace.

Tanya and Raylene like you to say 'hello' to them when you sit down at the workbench each morning.

Remember to ask Matt if it's okay to borrow his tape dispenser if you need it.

If you have to leave the line, always let Matt know where you're going and when you'll be back.

It's good to ask the others if they need any help doing their work. That's part of being a team.

  1. Clarify the behaviours that make a good team member. Provide opportunities for discussion, training and practice in:
  1. Explain with an example and give employees chances to practice the 'rules' of conversation.

Mirri, face Raylene when you start to talk with her.

Make sure Mark is ready to listen to you Trish.

John, you need to let everyone have their say. Don't interrupt or talk when another person is talking.

Kate, listen to what others have to say.

Introduce yourself Amy, and introduce the others.

Matt, you need to speak at the same volume as others in the group.

Ask questions to show you are interested, Jasper.

Say goodbye as you go Betty, to close off the conversation.

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