** DISCLAIMER** I am a blind person, and have always preferred saying this, even when my vision was much better. Some people call themselves Visually Impaired, Sight Impaired, Severely sight Impaired, a person with low vision, or blind. With each person that you meet they will have a preferred terminology,, please be accepting of this and follow their lead. However for the instances of this post i am referring to anyone with a severe sight problem as as a Visually Impaired person (VIP) , to make it easier, and hopefully as not to offend any readers who may be registered medically or legally blind.

Before we begin; blindness or Visual Impairment is a spectrum, and each Visual Impairment in itself can vary from person to person, Some people have central vision, with no peripheral some have no peripheral with no central vision,some may have very blurry or cloudy vision, some people may only be able to see bright or contrasting colour,, others may be able to see shapes and colours, some people may only have light perception, and some people may have total vision loss, also known as black blind vision. And this is just the tip of the iceberg!
I don’t claim to be an Ophthalmologist  but going from 20/20 vision to a deterioration over time, i’ve spoken to many different people from all walks of life with varying eye conditions, so I feel I have a basic knowledge of sight loss.




I’ve noticed through the years how  the public interact with  people who have  Visual Impairments, so i’ve decided to create a Do’s and Don’ts list: How to interact with Visually Impaired people.

Do’s:

1. Initial Contact:

When meeting a Visually Impaired Person (VIP)  for the first time, introduce yourself and say: “hello, my name is …”
If you already know the person : walk straight up to them face on, gently touch their upper arm and say something like:”Hi Sassy, it’s Dave”.
In most circumstances if they are VIP with some useful vision , they might see you coming, and even recognise you. But   It’s always better to be assertive rather than assume,especially if they weren’t expecting to see you, or it’s a crowded place.If you are meeting a VIP with new people: announce yourself first and mention that you’re with others. Allow the new people to introduce themselves individually so the VIP can attempt to distinguish them from one another.
The VIP might take a while to do this so be patient, it’s daunting meeting several people at once.When you are in conversation with a VIP, whether that be  just the two of you, or in a larger group, please let the VIP know you are leaving the room, and postponing the conversation for the moment. There’s nothing worse, and embarrassing for the VIP to be talking away to thin air when they believe that you are still a part of the conversation. That particular person may be able to laugh off the incident, but for some, it can leave the VIP flustered and cringing!

2 Guiding:

Guiding a visually Impaired Person might seem daunting to you at first but the more you do it, the more you will get used to it.

when guiding, or offering an arm as it’s commonly known, stand at the preferred side of the VIP and gently scoop your arm into their hand, their hand should either rest in the crook of your elbow, or their hand should grasp just above your elbow.
In this particular instance you should always communicate with the VIP how they prefer to be guided; some people may ask you to have your arm straight, others may ask for it to be bent. It depends on the initial grasp and how comfortable you both feel.

Generally the VIP should grasp your arm as if they are holding a glass, 4 fingers around your inner arm, and their thumb against the outside of your arm, just above your elbow.
If a VIP is using a cane (the white stick), take the arm that is not using the cane. The cane is in the VIP’s particular hand for a reason, do not ask them to swap it to make it convenient  for yourself.
You should always be a half step ahead of the VIP when guiding, this allows them to feel your body movements when you make a turn etc.Be vocal when guiding a VIP, give them clear instructions when you are turning left or right, the VIP should feel this in your body movements, but it’s always polite to give them a heads up and not encounter whiplash ;)Engage with the VIP and give them instructions on where the VIP is; “We’ve just passed the clock tower on our left.”

If obstacles are ahead, inform the VIP and explain that you’re going to move them around the obstacle: “We’re manoeuvring left because there is a lamppost  on our right just ahead.”

3 Pavements/ stairs:

Always approach steps/ stairs straight on. When coming to pavements and stairs, let the VIP know a few paces beforehand whether it’s a step up or step down. If possible count the amount of steps you are both about to encounter.  If there are too many to count ahead of time, count each step as you go up or down them, also announce that “last step” as you step off. It gives the VIP  an allows the VIP to prepare. As a VIP if they cannot see many steps you are encountering, they get into a rhythm, so it’s best to prepare them. 🙂

If the VIP is generally and independent traveller let them know ahead of time that there is a hand rail they can use to access the stairs safely. The VIP may have a particular side they prefer to take the hand rail, and in that case they may ask you to guide them to it.

If you have to leave a VIP at any time, let them know and put them in contact with a solid object such as a wall. Let them know this, so they are not facing the wall and looking, and feeling socially awkward.

4 Navigation:

Narrow spaces are a part of navigating on a daily basis, when you’re guiding a VIP in a narrow space or area; put your guiding arm behind your  back,  the VIP should follow your arm down to cup your wrist,  and should be walking directly behind you in single file with their arm outstretched.

 Doors can be tricky to navigate with a VIP, in order to do this smoothly, tell the VIP which way the door opens; “The door opens to the right” Doing this allows the VIP to build a visual representation in their mind, and if they are on the hinge side then they can push the door, instead of you struggling to do both.

5 Getting into a car:

Say which way the door is facing, and place their hand on the door handle, they should be able to manage alone.

6Sitting down:

Grip the back off the chair, and allow the VIP’s hand to follow your arm down to hold the back of the chair and get themselves on it safely.
If the back of the chair is against a wall, it may be easier to approach the chair in such a way that a leg of the VIP brushes against the chair so they are aware, for clarification mention to them; “The chair is on your right.”

7.Giving Instructions:

If you are out to dinner with a VIP, it would be really great if you could give them verbal instructions on the table you’re sitting at, or even the surroundings, an example of this would be to explain using a clock face, in conjunction with the VIP being at 6:O’Clock, I’m at 12, the kitchen is at 3, toilets are at 6, directly behind you, and the bar is at 9
This also works great when food is delivered, ask the VIP if they would like to be told where abouts the food is assorted on the plate. It’s good to ask the VIP beforehand, as some may not want/ need this input. I however, prefer it as I like to know what’s on the plate and where. I don’t enjoy fumbling about my food, trying to figure out where it is. Personally I have a severe dislike of dirtying my hands; – weird I know!
Another time the clock situation would be useful; is if the VIP is visiting your home for the first time. Giving them clear instructions such as down the hallway to the right is the living room, the back of the sofa will be at 2 O’Clock.

 

8. Fun:

We love to have a laugh and not take life to seriously, we don’t mind if you want to take our cane for a stroll, pretending you’re blind, (until you get too scared of course and open your eyes), so go ahead and ask if you can have a go. We’ll enjoy laughing at you freaking out, and I believe it takes some of the strangeness out of having your VIP friend swinging a white cane about 🙂 Just don’t forget to leave us somewhere solid, and let us know you’re giving it back to us!  🙂
I hope you found this post useful, and have learnt something new if you didn’t know these tips already, or haven’t met a blind person before.
Have I left anything out, are there any more tips you can add? Or specific tips you prefer as a VIP?
Much love, Sassy x

 




15 comments on “The Do’s of Interacting With Blind People”

  1. Really enlightening article.
    I’ve a friend who is visually impaired and just interact with him as I would anyone else. He’s part of our church group so I suppose I’ve taken cues from others as to how to interact with him.
    Having read the article I’ve realised why certain behaviours are helpful and not. Thanks for sharing.

  2. I don’t know anyone that is personally blind but I think it is important to learn how to interact with them. I think the main thing is to treat them normally because some people tend to treat the disabled/ blind as fragile and they are warriors in my eyes!

  3. This is a really helpful list. I don’t know anyone in my every day life who is visually impaired right now but I’ll store this info away for future reference!

  4. This is such a helpful post. I wouldn’t have considered half of the points you’ve made here, just because it’s out of the realm of my experience. I will be baring all these tips in mind when I need them

  5. Such a great post! I never know what is or isn’t polite to do so its nice to read something coming from a visually impaired person. I always want to offer to guide but don’t want to make them feel awkward or less independent.

  6. Thank you for such a useful post, I have certainly learnt a lot from it.

    I am lucky that so far in life, I haven’t suffered with any eye issues. However, a recent series of trips to the emergency eye clinic at the hospital with my son (he had suspected optical cellulitis) really did make me aware of the sheer scale of different eye problems which can occur to anyone at anytime and any age. I was stunned at how full the clinic was each time, and certainly made me count my blessings.

    Great post, thank you.
    Anna x

  7. Hi Sassy, wow such an informative post. I think a lot of the time, if someone hasn’t been in these sorts of situations before it can be so daunting as you wouldn’t want to get it wrong and cause problems for the person that is Visually Impaired. Thanks so much for linking this up to #thelist xx

  8. Really great post – with so much good information, did this subject in a Finnish course last year and you’ve answered all the questions I didn’t know the Finnish for. Will share it with my friends from there x

  9. I like this post 🙂 I’m blind myself, so can relate to some of the issues.
    What I do think needs to be said though is that even blind people can be incredibly different in the way they like to be treated, just like other people have dos and don’ts. For example, I don’t particularly want people to count stairs for me since I tend to use my cane to find out where they start or end, and usually I hear people coming so don’t really require the ‘touch on the forearm’ bit when people are making their presence known. I do agree with other points though, like saying when you leave the room. it’s slightly annoying to be talking to thin air, indeed 🙂 I also really like the clockface explanation when going out to eat, especially when there’s multiple dishes on the table this can be really helpful to make a mental ‘map’ for lack of a better word of where all the dishes are. I don’t feel like I need to know small details about my environment if its not something I’ll be able to make use of later, but again people are very different in that as well 🙂 So don’t use this guide as the definitive blind person 101 and leave it at that, I’m sure that wasn’t Sassy’s intention when writing it 🙂 Keep these in mind like the tips they are and treat visually impaired people foremost as people …basically like how you yourself would like to be treated. i think the biggest mistake you can make is thinking you know better. If you want to help someone and they tell you they’ll manage …let them unless they really get into a dangerous situation. Read: something you might find dangerous for yourself as well like falling off a cliff or dropping down a large pothole. Not, something you might think is dangerous for them like crossing a street 😉 Overruling what they tell you and just doing your own thing at that point would be treating this person subhuman and I don’t think anyone wants that 🙂

  10. Ever time I read your posts, there is always at least one thing that always makes the think, “Wow, that wouldn’t have even occurred to me.” Like with food on the table- tell the VIP where everything is, no one wants a mouth full of brussel sprouts when they were expecting steak. Ugh. I guess I’ve had similar experiences with my hearing loss (it fluctuates daily) and people often forget- probably because I look exactly the same, and I typically miss half the conversation because they turn their head while talking so I can’t see their lips…anyway, thank you again for helping make the world a friendlier place for everyone. ❤️

  11. Very informative. I myself have interaction with a vip person, but still feel I have learned something new.
    Thank you.

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