Guide to Working with People who are Blind or Visually Impaired
The following summary contains many true statements but no absolute truths. Every person with a disability is different. While this summary is about people who are blind or visually impaired, remember that you are working with individuals. Everyone has different and people who are blind or visually impaired should be treated like anyone else.
Things to Know:
- The definition of "legally blind" is 20/200 visual acuity with best correction. Most people who are considered "blind" have some sight rather than no sight at all.
- Many people who are blind are quite mobile and independent. Some view their blindness more as an inconvenience than as a disability.
- While many people who are blind can read Braille, most do not.
Things to Do:
- Introduce yourself. Identify who you are and what your job or role is. If there is information that is visually obvious to those who can see, be sure to give it to the blind person verbally.
- Be descriptive when giving directions. Saying, "Over there," has little meaning to someone who cannot see where you may be pointing. "Four doors after turning right from the elevator," would be much more helpful.
- Lead someone who is blind only after they have accepted your offer to do so. Allow them to hold YOUR arm rather than you holding theirs. It is important to let them control their own movements.
- Describe things from their perspective, not yours. Some people who are blind use a "clock" reference for things directly in front of them, such as a meal. For example, something could be positioned at thee o'clock (to their right) or six o'clock (directly in front and close). Before using this strategy, however, ask the person if it is useful to them.
- Tell them when you have brought new items into their environment. Describe what they are and, most importantly, where you have put them.
Things to Avoid:
- Do not move items (furniture, personal items, etc.) after their position has been learned by the person. This can be frustrating and, in some cases, dangerous.
- Do not use references that are visually oriented like, "Over there near the green plant."
- Do not interact with a dog guide while it is working (in harness).
Things to Consider:
People who are blind and/or visually impaired are, by and large, much more independent than they are given credit for. Sometimes negotiating the physical environment is far less frustrating than trying to communicate with people who are not sensitive to their needs.
Unfortunately, people who are blind have a long history of being patronized and talked to as if they were children. They have more often been told what to do rather than asked what they would prefer to do. This attitude is not acceptable towards any person, visually impaired or not.