awareness of visual impairment

Each person who is blind or visually impaired is an individual, with feelings, interests, strengths, needs and goals as varied as those of any other person.

Definition of visual impairment:

Vision is either

1. LOST (field loss, blind spot(s), cataracts)

2. BLURRED (cataracts, double/strabismus), poor contrast or resolution OR

3. HAMPERED (nystagmus, fluctuations, multiple floaters, photophobia, color blindness, poor

night vision)

When you meet a person who happens to be blind:

• identify yourself.

• if there are others present, address each person by name so there’s no mistaking to whom you are talking.

• remember that an unseen smile can be supplemented by a warm handshake and a friendly tone of voice.

• talk directly to the person and not through a companion, even if the person is deaf and blind.

• tell the person when you leave so that he/she isn’t left talking to an empty space.

When you are talking with a person who is blind:

• don’t worry about using words like “see”, “look”, “watch” and “blind” – most people who are blind are not offended by these words and use them in their own speech.

• use a normal tone of voice – most people who are blind have perfectly normal hearing, so there is no need to raise your voice. On the other hand, don’t assume that because the person is blind he/she automatically has extraordinary senses of touch or hearing.

• look directly at the person, if your gaze wanders, your voice follows.

When you are offering assistance to a person who is blind:

• if you think a person needs help, offer assistance, but allow the person to decide whether the help is needed and in what way it will be most appreciated.

• if you escort a person, offer your arm and let him/her hold your arm at the most comfortable location for them, usually just above the elbow for a person equal in height to you.

• placing the person’s hand on the back of the chair will allow them to be seated independently.

• avoid touching or moving the person or the person’s belongings without warning and/or necessity. Respect each individual’s personal space, belongings and independence.

• if you must leave the person alone momentarily, leave him/her within contact with a wall, chair or some other stationary object.

• keep directions as brief and clear as possible, using left and right according to the way he/she is facing.

• remember – verbal pointing and hand gestures are meaningless to a person unable to see them.

Helpful tips:

• when dining out, read the menu and prices, and ask the person if they’d like to know the positions of various foods on their plate. If more help is needed, the person will ask.

• leave doors either fully opened or closed, as a door or drawer left partially opened can be dangerous and/or confusing, even for a person with partial sight.

• include the person who is blind or visually impaired in every decision to rearrange furniture, whether for safety, convenience or aesthetic reasons do not touch, pet, feed or otherwise distract a guide dog without the persons permission, as the person’s safety depends upon the attention of the dog.

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