** 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.
1. Initial Contact:
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!
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.
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.
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:
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.