How to assist – or not assist – a person with vision loss

At Outlook Enrichment, we believe it’s important to reach out to the general public and those with vision loss through education and advocacy. Meet the Blind Month happens every year in October. Our hope is to also foster independence and self-confidence within the blind and low vision community. If you are someone with sight, you might want to help carry this goal forward. Here are some general do’s and don’ts when interacting with someone who cannot see or see well.

  • Approach and ask if they need help. Identify yourself and be sure they know you’re speaking to them. They may not need your aid, so don’t be offended if they refuse your offer. If they do need assistance, listen carefully then help as needed.

 

  • Don’t grab their elbow. Instead, allow them to take yours. This position is more secure.

 

  • If they need directions, don’t point and say things like: “It’s over there.” Use ordinary language and be specific. Direct them to their left and right, not yours.

 

  • If there are obstacles, don’t say “look out.” Tell them to stop and explain what’s in their path and where exactly it is.

 

  • Use words like “look” and “see” because the blind use these terms too.

 

  • Don’t walk away when they are talking because they won’t see you depart. If you need to leave their side, tell them. It’s embarrassing and frustrating to talk to thin air.

 

  • When you have a question for a person with vision loss, don’t ask their companion. They are capable of responding themselves. It’s insulting to be ignored.

 

  • Don't assume they are helpless. While blind people may require assistance in certain circumstances, but don’t assume that because they cannot see, they are incapable. Do not assume they need help because you used sight to complete the task. Ask if your assistance is needed and accept the answer you receive.

 

  • Don’t shout at them or touch them excessively. They can hear just fine.

 

  • Don’t compliment them by saying: “You don’t look blind.”

 

 

  • When assisting them with navigation, don’t grab their cane or the dog’s leash. Let them tell you how to assist in this situation.

 

  • Don’t compare –diversity exists in the sighted and non-sighted communities. Blindness or low vision is simply a trait. It doesn’t dictate one’s personality or hobbies.

 

 

  •  Don’t move things around in a person’s home. This rule applies to everyone, but it might take someone with vision loss longer to find a moved item.

 

  •  When counting out bills, indicate the denomination as you lay it in a person’s hand. People with limited vision distinguish coins by feel and size.

 

  • When dining out alone, don’t always assume a blind person will want you to cut their food. Read the menu along with prices. When you approach the table with food, indicate where the dishes are located with phrases like “Your water is on your right.” If further assistance is needed, they will ask.

 

  • When first meeting a blind person, always identify yourself. If they extend their hand, shake it.

We hope this list will help anyone meeting a person with vision loss for the first time. Remember people who cannot see or cannot see well go to appointments, work and take care of their families like everyone else. They just find alternative techniques to accomplish certain tasks. Think about the questions you ask and remember people with limited vision have more in common with you than you realize. Outlook Enrichment can give you additional tools and tips to support your loved one with vision loss. Check out our peer support groups to learn more.

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