Interacting with individuals with mental disabilities requires a compassionate and understanding approach, particularly in security settings where they may feel anxious or overwhelmed. Organizations should adopt disability-inclusive safeguarding practices. These practices consider the unique needs and vulnerabilities of individuals with disabilities. By doing so, they create an environment that better protects everyone, including those with disabilities. The UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD) describes persons with disabilities as “those who have long-term physical, mental, intellectual, or sensory impairments which, in interaction with various barriers, may hinder their full and effective participation in society on an equal basis with others.” Safeguarding systems should align with these rights and principles. Homeland Security has published A Guide to Interacting With People Who Have Mental Disabilities. In addition, here are some ways security personnel can effectively interact with mentally ill individuals.

Patience and Empathy Approach individuals with mental disabilities with patience and empathy. Understand that they may require additional time to process information or communicate their needs.

Clear Communication Use simple and clear language when communicating instructions or information. Be sure to convey your message in an understandable form and in multiple ways if necessary. Avoid jargon or complex sentences that may confuse them. Take responsibility to ensure you are doing everything to make yourself understood. Also, be sure you understand the person correctly to reduce the chances of confusion. Here are 12 tips to communicate effectively with adults with disabilities.

Non-Verbal Cues Pay attention to non-verbal cues such as body language and facial expressions. These can provide valuable insight into their emotions and level of comfort. Examples of non-verbal cues include:

  • Facial expressions, such as smiling, frowning, or raising eyebrows
  • Eye contact, which can indicate interest, attention, or dominance
  • Gestures and movements, such as nodding, pointing, or crossing arms
  • Tone of voice, which can convey emotion, attitude, or sarcasm
  • Body language, such as posture, orientation, or distance
  • Physical touch, such as handshaking, hugging, or patting
  • Appearance, such as clothing, hairstyle, or accessories


Respect Personal Space Respect their personal space and avoid making sudden movements or gestures that may startle them. Just as you would with anyone else, respect the personal space and boundaries of individuals with disabilities. Avoid touching mobility aids or service animals without permission and be mindful of physical barriers that may impede accessibility.

Provide Visual Aids Visual aids are essential tools in enhancing communication for individuals with disabilities or special needs. Utilize visual aids such as pictures or diagrams to supplement verbal instructions. Visual cues can help individuals with mental disabilities better understand the information being conveyed.

Offer Choices Whenever possible, offer choices to empower individuals and give them a sense of control over their environment. For example, you can offer different security screening options or routes to navigate through a space.

Be Flexible Be flexible and adaptable in your approach. Understand that individuals with mental disabilities may have unique needs or preferences and be willing to accommodate them within the constraints of security protocols.

Involve Caregivers or Support Persons When talking to a person with a disability, look at and speak directly to that person, rather than their caregiver or support person. If appropriate, involve caregivers or support people in the interaction. They can provide valuable assistance and insight into the individual’s needs and communication style.

Maintain a Calm and Reassuring Demeaner Stay calm and reassuring, especially in stressful situations. Your demeaner can help alleviate anxiety and promote a sense of safety and security.

Training and Sensitivity Ensure that security personnel receive adequate training and education on interacting with individuals with mental disabilities. Sensitivity training can help foster understanding and empathy towards their unique needs.

By approaching interactions with individuals with mental disabilities with patience, empathy, and understating, security personnel can create a safe and inclusive environment for all individuals.   National Protective Services, Inc does just that. Schedule your FREE, no obligation consultation today by calling (703) 379-7272 or emailing [email protected] . Visit to learn more and see how it feels with NPS, Protecting You Like Family.