I've worked extensively with individuals with vision loss. I hold an M.S. degree in rehabilitation counseling from East Carolina University.
What does the term Visually Impaired mean?
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.
Rules of Thumb
Often, the greatest challenge for people with visual impairments is navigating the social arena because of misperceptions and misunderstandings. However, the number of individuals with visual impairments is expected to increase due to aging populations, birth defects, and injuries. 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. For this reason, I’ve provided some important tips to keep in mind when encountering people with vision loss:
1. Acknowledge the Person with a Visual Impairment
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. Remember: People with disabilities are human beings as well.
2. Speak in Your Normal Voice
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.
3. Use Everyday Conversational Phrases and Words
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.
4. Stay Away from "Games"
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. By introducing yourself, this reduces the likelihood of embarrassment interfering with sincere communications.
5. Always Request and Receive a Rejection or Acceptance for Help
Avoid grabbing a person with a visual impairment or his/her cane. If you think he/she needs help walking to a destination, politely 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. Indeed, touching a person or his/her property without consent may have unintended consequences.
6. Receive Permission to Assist
Ask if an individual with a visual impairment needs assistance walking to a location. If a person with vision loss says he/she desires aid, 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. I demonstrate the technique in the photo above.
7. Keep Safety in Mind
Leave a person with a visual impairment in a safe place. Don’t leave a person with vision loss “stranded” in an aisle, in a hallway, or on a sidewalk, etc. once you have led him/her to a destination. Give the person with a visual impairment a safe location to stand, sit, or otherwise be out of the way of potential injury.
8. Exit Politely
When you leave the presence of a person with vision loss, let him/her 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. By applying these strategies from initial contact until you must depart, interactions between you and a person with vision loss can be positive and productive.
Concluding Thoughts About Politeness Toward People with Visual Impairments
In summary, demonstrating politeness toward people with disabilities in exchanges provides several important pay-offs. Primarily, research findings over the decades have shown people with disabilities tend to maintain customer loyalty to businesses they frequent. The reason is obvious: People prefer to do business with companies who “treat them right.” In addition, people with disabilities prefer to remain with employers who hire them. This increases the employment rate for individuals with disabilities while raising the exposure to the general public of qualified individuals from various groups. Finally, showing courtesy helps with correcting prejudices and stereotypes held by the general public while promoting a stable society.
This content is for informational purposes only and does not substitute for formal and individualized diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed medical professional. Do not stop or alter your current course of treatment. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.
© 2017 Tim Truzy
Tim Truzy (author) from U.S.A. on August 12, 2019:
I conducted a lecture today, using this article to help some local nonprofit groups better serve people with visual impairments. The group was pleased and felt good about the information they received. This article is great for informing those who work with the public on how to better interact with those who have vision loss. Thanks for reading.
Tim Truzy (author) from U.S.A. on December 16, 2018:
This topic is crucial to me because of the people I work with for fun and for a living.
I appreciate your comment.
FlourishAnyway from USA on December 16, 2018:
Terrific, expert article, Tim! you truly know how to connect with your audience and make them understand in a simple way what needs to be done.
Tim Truzy (author) from U.S.A. on April 25, 2018:
It's important often to recognize that no means no when assisting people with disabilities. Frequently, people think they may know the best approach for dealing with various situations. People may say: I would want someone to treat me a certain way (opening doors, for instance), but respect begins with the idea that this other human being is not me. Treat people like they want to be treated; don't assume. Simply ask.
Thank you for reading and commenting.
Sonia Sylart from UK on July 30, 2017:
Very often people want to help but don't know the best way to help so this guidance is very enlightening. Lots of food for thought - great.