How should people interact with individuals who are blind or visually impaired?

First and foremost, people should keep in mind that those of us who are blind or visually impaired want to be treated like everyone else. Still, there are a few simple tips and tricks that can help make everyone feel welcome and at ease!

Identify yourself rather than playing the “do you know who I am?” game. It can be very uncomfortable when I get put on the spot by well-intentioned friends! Most of us learn to recognize people’s voices, but if you’re not sure if the person recognizes yours, say something like “Hi Mike, it’s Joe.”

When you see a person who is visually impaired with someone else, please don’t direct your questions or comments to their companion. This is one of the most uncomfortable situations for those of us with visual impairments; we are perfectly capable of making decisions and speaking up for ourselves.

If you’re in a room with many people and you are speaking to the person with a visual impairment, please let the person know either by saying his or her name or with a tap on the shoulder. That way this person will immediately know you are talking to them.

Please don’t raise your voice or talk slowly when speaking to us! The majority of people who are blind or visually impaired can hear perfectly fine. In the instance that you do encounter someone with a hearing impairment, he or she will be sure to let you know.

It’s perfectly ok for you to use words like “see,” “look” or “watch” when talking with someone who is blind or visually impaired. I remember once having a conversation with a cab driver about how beautiful the weather was that day. All of a sudden she began stammering and apologized to me because she had said that “the sun looked beautiful.” On the same note, it’s perfectly acceptable for you to use words like “blind” or “visually impaired” in your conversation.

When you’re in a room and are about to leave, please let the person know you’ll be leaving. As a person who is blind there’s nothing more embarrassing to me than realizing that I’ve been talking to an empty room!

If you think someone might need help, always ask before offering. Please don’t feel offended if they decline. However if the person accepts your assistance, ask them how you can help.

Be specific when giving directions. In the case of those of us who are totally blind or have a severe visual impairment, pointing or saying things like “over there” and “over here” won’t help much. Try to be as descriptive as you can with directions. You can say something like “turn left and walk two blocks. At the end of the second block cross the street and then turn right. The pharmacy is the second building on your right.”

Never grab, push or pull a person when guiding them! It can be quite startling to suddenly be grabbed when we’re walking down the street. Let the person hold on to your arm and walk at a pace that is comfortable for you both.

These are just but a handful of suggestions that can help you better communicate and interact with people who are blind or visually impaired. Remember that like anyone else, people with visual impairments want and deserve to be treated with courtesy and respect. It is also important to keep in mind that everyone has different needs and preferences. For this reason, it is always best to ask a person if they’d like any form of assistance or consideration.

What other tips and suggestions do you have for interacting with people with visual impairments? Feel free to comment! Also, please email your questions about blindness or visual impairment to sandysview@chicagolighthouse.org.

As always, thanks for reading!

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7 thoughts on “How should people interact with individuals who are blind or visually impaired?

  1. Good ideas. I leaned those same ideas from my friend Rita McCabe who was totally blind. My son used to get upset with me when I would say something like “I’ll see you later” as he thought I was making fun of Rita. I told him I wasn’t and she had said it was okay. I finally had to get her to tell him in person. Rita passed away in 2013 and I miss my friend so much. I learned so much from her.

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    • Hello Rosalie,

      Thanks for sharing! I too have had a couple of instances when people get upset when someone else says things like “see” or “look.” I’ve learned that if I explain to them kindly but firmly that it’s ok for them to use those words they usually get the point.

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  2. I like the suggestions given here. I just have one addition. Please do not feel compelled to ask if a blind or visually impaired person wants your seat or once assistance more than once. No means no. No thank you means no thank you. It is infantilizing to keep saying are you sure please take it.

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    • Hi Patti,

      Thanks for your suggestion! This happens to me all the time. Of course I appreciate people asking, but like you said no means no and people should learn to respect that. After all they wouldn’t offer, much less expect a sighted person to take the seat. Thanks for your thoughts and please spread the word about our new blog!

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