Facing Vision Loss

When a person experiences vision loss, everyone from family to friends to co-workers can benefit from remembering that certain adjustments in behavior and expectations are important. When someone can no longer see as well as before, personal interactions and daily activities must be adjusted to take this new reality into account. We hope that you find the following tips helpful.

When offering assistance to a blind or visually impaired person, speak directly to that person. Simply ask, “May I be of help?” When guiding a blind or visually impaired person, don’t push him or her ahead of you. Touch the individual’s forearm with the back of your hand and allow him or her to take your arm just above the elbow. Walk at a normal pace with the individual a half pace behind. Allow the visually impaired person to stop and locate the edge of a curb or stairs before proceeding. These kinds of techniques are called “sighted guide.”

Identify yourself to the person with vision loss. When meeting a person with vision loss, say “hello” first and identify yourself. Depending on their vision loss, many people can’t see your face and to avoid awkwardness for everyone, simply say “Hi, Aunt Mary, it’s Donna.” Keep in mind that depending on the setting, sometimes there is background noise which may keep the visually impaired person from identifying your voice, so make introductions easier by adding your name. Don’t play guessing games such as “Do you know who I am?”

Don’t walk away without telling the person that you are leaving the immediate environment. The person may continue to talk and it will be embarrassing to them if they believe they are talking to the air. It can also be frightening to think that you have been left stranded in a location like the middle of a room with no point of reference as to where you are.

Talk directly to the person. Sometimes people unconsciously begin speaking differently to people with physical challenges. Don’t ask Uncle Bob’s daughter what he would like to drink. Speak directly to Uncle Bob!

It’s fine to use words like “see, read, and look.” These words are part of normal vocabulary and there is no need to be afraid of using them. It can be very unsettling to try to exchange normal words for what you feel is less offensive.

Give clear and specific directions. Saying “your glass is over there,” is not helpful when serving a beverage to a visually impaired person, for example. Rather state, “Your glass is at 11:00.” Using the numbers on the clock as a point of reference is very helpful in establishing a location. Also use terms such as left, right, back and front to help with safe movement.

Communicate verbally and avoid relying on nonverbal expressions.

It is a challenge for many people to learn how to communicate better with expressive, descriptive, detailed words. People with vision loss may not be able to see you make certain gestures, such as shrugging your shoulders, a surprised look, or tearing up. They may not be able to see the “smile on your face” indicating that you are teasing when you make certain comments.

Don’t move anything around without asking. A simple movement of a chair in a living room, for example, may cause a problem because most visually impaired people use stationary objects as landmarks to navigate around. Personal items, trash cans, kitchen utensils, or even medications moved from one place to another will cause confusion and could make an area or activity unsafe for a visually impaired person. Keep corridors and stairs clear of clutter and don’t leave doors ajar at home, school or work.

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