According to the CDC, there are over 16 million people in the U.S. who are visually impaired. Over 2 million of those people are blind.
Chances are good that at some point, you will come across someone with a visual impairment, either at work or out during your day-to-day activities. Do you know what to do if you encounter someone with vision problems? Do you know what not to do?
Read on for some tips on interacting with visually impaired and blind people.
What Does It Mean to Be Visually Impaired?
Many people think visual impairment is equal to blindness. This is not the case. While there are people who have a complete loss of sight, there exist varying levels and degrees of vision loss. A person might have lost their central or side vision or have sensitivity to light or night blindness.
An image of someone walking with a white blind cane is what often comes to mind when you hear the term “visually impaired.” However, while some with vision problems may use a cane, others may have prescription glasses or guide dogs. You can ask a person about how much they can see and let that guide your interaction.
Introductions and Conversations
When meeting a visually impaired person, be sure to introduce yourself. In a natural voice, speak directly to the visually impaired person, not to any companion they may be with.
If you’re in a large group talking, address the visually impaired person by name. To help that person follow the conversation, it can be helpful to restate your name before making a comment or asking a question.
When the conversation is over and you are about to walk away, say so. This way the visually impaired person is not left talking to empty air.
To Guide or Not to Guide
You may have the instinct to help when you see a person who is visually impaired walking. However, you should never grab someone, even with good intentions. Ask if the person needs assistance.
If that person says they need help, offer your arm. They will grip it just above your elbow. Keep your bent arm near your side and walk just ahead of the person you’re guiding.
As you’re walking, be sure to offer clear directions. Pause when you get to a curb or steps, and be sure to indicate whether they go up or down. If there is an obstacle in the way, alert the person you’re guiding.
It’s Good to Know
If you see a visually impaired person with a guide dog out and about, that dog is working. Be sure not to distract or pet it. If the person is sitting with the dog resting nearby, you can ask if you can speak to or touch the dog.
You can use normal language when speaking to a visually impaired person; they have the same vocabulary as you. Words like “see,” “look,” and “read” are perfectly okay to incorporate into the conversation.
Listen and Learn
A person who is visually impaired wants to be treated with the same respect as someone who is sighted. They also want to be included. Keeping in mind some of these simple do’s and don’ts will help smooth the way—for you and for any visually impaired person you might meet.
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