Many times people are unsure how to interact with those that are blind or have low vision. The most important thing to remember is that they are like everyone else and want to be treated like it. The only characteristic differentiating you from them is a visual impairment.
Here are some dos and don’ts that you may find helpful when it comes to communicating with those who are visually impaired.
- Always let a person who is blind or visually impaired know when you enter a room or join a social setting. Address the person by name so that they know you are speaking to them and do not walk away without letting them know that you are leaving. It is humiliating and frustrating to find yourself talking to thin air.
- Refrain from filling glasses and cups to the brim. This applies to bowls also.
- Do speak directly to those who are blind or have low vision about what they want or need. Do not address your questions to others accompanying them. For example, if you are working in a restaurant do not ask the person sitting next to them what they would like to order. Speak to them directly and in a normal voice. One thing that I have seen happen far too often is someone raising their voice when speaking to someone who is visually impaired. Visually impaired does not mean hearing impaired.
- If people who are blind or have low vision extend their hands to shake, do so.
- You should describe the surroundings and obstacles in a person’s pathway. Be sure to look up and down as well as ahead. Warn them of hazards such as kitchen cupboards, overhangs, cars, trees and uneven surfaces.
- Use ordinary language when giving directions. Be specific. Do not point or say “over there”. Direct those with visual impairment to their left or right, and not yours.
- It is perfectly acceptable to use words such as “look” and “see”. These are part of everyone’s common vocabulary. Otherwise both you and the individual who is blind or visually impaired will feel awkward.
- Keep in mind that a visually impaired person will not be able to see what is happening. Be sure to tell them what is going on.
- Do not relocate furniture or other objects without letting the visually impaired person know that you have done so.
- Do not leave doors ajar as they can become a real hazard. Open or close them completely. This is also emphasized in ariticle about Interior Design and Decorating for People Living With Low Vision.
If you think someone may need help or assistance, walk up to them and greet them. It is also good to identify yourself. Ask if they would like assistance. They will accept your offer of help or let you know that they do not need assistance. Not everyone who is blind or has a vision impairment will want assistance, and please do not be offended if assistance is not needed.