Tips for Interacting with People Who are Blind or Who Have a Visual Impairment

By | April 29, 2014

The following are some things to remember when interacting with a person who is blind or who has a visual impairment.

As you approach the person, announce your presence, as well as your name.

Speak directly to the person in your normal voice.

Do not touch the person without first asking for, and receiving, permission. Respect their personal space, and understand that touch may startle them.

If you think you can assist them, ask them first and wait for their reply. If they reply in the affirmative, let them guide you in how you can best assist them. Follow their instructions. Don’t make assumptions about what they need. If you are unsure, ask them. They will best know what they need.

If they accept your offer to guide them, offer them your elbow and walk at your normal pace. Tell them about upcoming changes in elevations, steps, or barriers.

If you move away from the person, tell them that you are leaving. They may continue to talk as if you were still there, so it is polite to let them know when you are finished with the conversation, needed elsewhere, or need to go.

Do not talk to, or touch, service animals. While it is hard to resist the urge to touch animals, it is necessary. Working animals must concentrate on the task at hand. They may not look busy to you but they are on the job, and as such should not be distracted. Some people do let others pet their service animals, but assume the majority do not, and try your best to ignore the service animal. If you are unable to resist, ask first whether you can touch the service animal, and, most importantly, respect the answer.

If you are offering directions be precise. Do not use terms such as “over there”; this does not mean anything to the person. Do not point. Be as clear and concise as possible. If you can, use distances (100 feet, 10 metres, etc.). Let them know if there are any barriers in the way that they should be aware of.

Don’t assume a person can or cannot see. Some people who are blind have no vision at all, others are legally blind and have very limited vision, others have visual impairments that can differ in severity, shape, texture, etc.

Be patient with yourself. While interacting with a person who is blind or has a visual impairment, you may feel uncomfortable, nervous, unsure, or confused; understand that this can be a normal reaction to interacting with someone who has a disability, especially when you have little or no experience. When in doubt ask the person with whom you are interacting, they will best know what they need, and  if, or how, you can help.

Treat the person as you would anyone else. A person with a disability is a person first and foremost. Their disability may require some alternations to how you interact, but it should not affect how you treat the person.