WHAT SHOULD I DO OR SAY WHEN WITH A VISUALLY IMPAIRED PERSON?
A GUIDE FOR SIGHTED PEOPLE WHO DO NOT KNOW WHAT TO DO WHEN THEY MEET A PERSON WHO IS VISUALLY IMPAIRED
About 12.0 million people in the United States live with impaired vision. About 80 percent see shadows, have only tunnel vision, or can read only very large print. Impaired vision does not limit most people’s activities; it changes how they perform them. A co-worker may use adaptive computer equipment. A parent reads with a magnifying glass. Your child’s classmate may use a white cane to travel independently.
Persons who are legally blind carry a white cane with or without a red tip. The Ohio White Cane Law (ORC4511.47(A)) states that drivers must yield the right-of-way to a person carrying a white cane or using a dog guide, regardless of the traffic signal or where the crosswalk is.
About 10 percent of the visually impaired population chooses to use a trained dog guide. One recognizes this working animal by the harness it wears, the harness having a rigid handle. Not all dog guides are German Shepherds. Labradors and Golden Retrievers are also popular. Dog guide users also have the right-of-way, just as cane users do, and the dogs may legally go anywhere, including restaurants and hospitals. Please resist the temptation to talk to or pet a dog guide. It must not be distracted while it is working. Also, never, ever give a dog guide food without first getting express permission from its owner.
Individuals who have some vision may choose to wear dark glasses, because bright lights may cause discomfort, or painful glare. Not everyone who is blind or visually impaired wears them.
If you realize the person waiting to cross the street with you is visually impaired, do not panic. Ask, “Would you like some assistance?” The response may be “no thank you”. If so, do not persist. However, if the answer is yes, let that person advise you on how best to assist.
In this document , we provide basic tips if you do offer assistance and the answer is “yes.”
You as a sighted person can be very helpful in providing guidance to a visually impaired person, especially in a crowded or confusing area. Allow the individual to grasp your arm above the elbow. As you walk, keep your arm relaxed at your side. That person will be about a half-step behind, and can sense as you change directions. Announce as you approach doorways, stairs, or if there are other changes in the environment. Always go first, rather than push or pull the person with vision impairment. To get through a narrow passage, move your elbow slightly behind you, as you explain the change. That person will move behind so the two of you may pass single file.
If, while at a gathering, you see a visually impaired person sitting or standing alone, or not included in activities, go introduce yourself and ask if you can assist in some way. It is often difficult for a visually impaired person to seek out others in a crowd and to be included in the group activities. It may be that person is not actually interested and you may be given a “no.” Take no offence if the answer is “no.” If the answer is “yes,” do what you can as well as introduce that person around to enable inclusion in any activities. Identify your self: It is no fun to have to guess the identity of the speaker, and it can sometimes be embarrassing. In a group, it is especially important to use the name of the visually impaired person so he/she knows when he/she is being addressed. Let the person know when you leave, so he/she does not end up talking to empty air believing you are still there, an embarrassing situation to say the least.
If you must leave a visually impaired person, guide him/her to a chair, if you can. Put his/her hand on the back of the chair so he/she may sit. Guiding one to be near a corner, a wall, a door, or some solid point of reference may be a good alternative, and do explain what you are doing. Do not leave the person stranded in the middle of a room somewhere and possibly disoriented.
Speak directly to the individual, not to nearby companions. You need not raise your voice. Vision loss does not necessarily affect hearing nor does it indicate lack of intellect.
Do not be uncomfortable using figures of speech such as “look” or “see.” For example, with audio description, many persons who are visually impaired “watch” television and enjoy movies. However, do not use hand signals or vague expressions such as “over there.”
In many restaurants, Braille or large print menus are available. If you encounter a situation where such is not the case, offer to read the menu aloud. When the food arrives, use the face of a clock to describe the position of the food items on the plate. No one likes to hunt to find the entree.
In retail stores, the individual may ask for information regarding color or style of the item being purchased. Your customer may use Braille-marked or large print checks or other adaptive aids to pay for the purchase. When making change, discreetly identify the denomination of the bills you are handing back. Most states such as Ohio issues a legal identification card for those who do not drive. You must accept it as a valid form of identification, just as you would the driving license.
If you have a visitor with vision impairment, do not leave doors or cabinets ajar. Loose cords and items on the floor can cause accidents, too. Ask before you turn up the lights because too much light may be uncomfortable for some. In fact, some people can see better on overcast days. If you are visiting a visually impaired person, do not move furnishings without telling your host.
Do not shy away from friendly conversation. You may want to ask, “But how do you cross country ski?” While we all have days where we may not want to talk about ourselves, taking an interest in another person is nothing to be uncomfortable with.
Do not be afraid to ask how to be most effective when assisting a person with vision impairment. Using the guidelines outlined in this document, you should feel more at ease.
The American Council of the Blind of Ohio, Greater Cincinnati Chapter is a non-profit organization committed to improving the quality and equality of life for people who are visually impaired. Our members include people who are blind, who are losing vision, or who are parents of a child who is visually impaired. We welcome anyone who wishes to work with us for equal rights and full participation in society for all who are visually impaired. Please join us in our endeavor?
Please remember the American Council of the Blind of Ohio, Greater Cincinnati Chapter (ACBOGCC) when you prioritize your charity giving. Your gift will allow us to better serve our visually impaired citizens.
Please feel free to e-mail your questions and comments to [email protected]
E-mail our president at:
President Mary Ann Donelan, [email protected]
Thank you for caring about our visually impaired citizens!