How to Be Polite to People With Vision Loss
The term visual impairment is used to describe people who have lost some or all use of their eyesight. Although estimates vary, approximately three to four percent of people in the United States have visual impairments. Some people are totally blind. Other individuals have low vision. All people who are legally blind have visual impairments, but all visual impairments do not qualify as legal blindness.
Truly, loss of vision can create challenges for most people in their daily lives. Through training programs and skill development, many difficulties can be reduced for these individuals. People who have visual impairments can have active and rewarding lives as they overcome obstacles. For example, people who have visual impairments hold professional positions, raise families, and contribute to their communities to mention a few regular accomplishments. Usually, people with visual impairments strive for the highest levels of independence.
However, frequently the greatest challenge for people with visual impairments is navigating the social arena because of misperceptions and misunderstandings. Having worked extensively with these individuals as a counselor and personally, I’ve learned societal attitudes can make a normal encounter transform into a tedious barrier of engagement.
Rules of Thumb
Here are some good rules for courteous and friendly interactions to occur:
- Interact directly with adults who have visual impairments. A good rule of thumb: If a person who has a disability is asking you a question, answer him/her. If someone is with the person who has a visual impairment, don’t ignore the person with a disability. Speak to the person who speaks to you.
- It’s perfectly acceptable to use “seeing” words when you meet a person with a visual impairment. Such words are a part of everyday language. These words include: see, observe, watch, and look. Individuals with visual disabilities use these words, and you should too. Do not feel uncomfortable doing so.
- Avoid making people with vision loss play a guessing game. Identify who you are when you meet a person with a visual impairment. Remember: People forget faces. Sometimes, people don’t recall voices, too.
- Do not talk to people who are visually impaired in strained or exaggerated tones. Yelling or using a patronizing voice conveys a lack of respect during any encounter. Use a normal rate and pitch in your speech. People with disabilities are people first. Talk to them in such a way.
- Avoid grabbing a person with a visual impairment or his/her cane. If you think he/she might need help walking to a destination, then ask. Do not be offended if the person with a visual impairment says no. The person with a visual disability may be simply orienting to his/her surroundings.
- If a person with vision loss says he/she needs assistance in walking to a location, offer your elbow for the mobility technique of “human guide.” The person with a visual impairment will take your elbow, walking slightly behind you to the place he/she wishes to go. Once at that location, he/she will let go of your elbow.
- Don’t leave a person with a visual impairment “stranded” in an aisle, in a hallway, or on a sidewalk, etc. once you offer aid. Give the person with a visual impairment a safe place to stand, sit, or otherwise be out of the way of potential injury.
- When you leave the presence of a person with vision loss, let them know you are leaving. For example: “John, it’s been great chatting with you, but I have to get to my class.” Don’t simply walk away without indicating you are going to do so.