Here are ten things that you should know when you meet someone who is blind or visually impaired:
- I am just like you.
My visual impairment does not stop me from doing what I want. I go to school or work. I may be raising a family. I like traveling, watching TV, reading, and spending time with friends and family. In short, I do all of the things that you do.
- Being blind does not mean that I don’t see anything.
Being blind does not mean that I live in darkness. Most people who are blind have some vision. I may see just light and shadows. I may also see colors and shapes. I may be able to see things right in front of me but not what is on the side. For other people, it may be precisely the opposite. Bright light and glare may make it harder for me to see anything, so I might wear tinted glasses.
- If I need help, I will ask.
Like everyone else, sometimes I need a little help. When I need help, I will ask you and tell you what I need. If you think I may need help, please ask, and I will happily tell you.
- White Canes
You may see me using a long white cane when I travel. The cane becomes an extension of my arm, helping me detect obstacles and provide me with information to determine where I am. Please step out of the way if I am walking toward you and yield if I am standing in an intersection.
- Lend an arm.
If I ask you to guide me someplace, let me hold on to your arm just above your elbow, and I will follow a step behind you. Walk at a normal pace and let me know before we come to an obstacle like stairs or a doorway.
- Be yourself.
Be yourself, relax, and speak directly to me in a normal voice. Don’t be afraid to approach me, and don’t avoid words like “see” or “look” – I use them too!
- When giving directions, be clear.
When telling me how to get somewhere, rather than pointing or using terms like “over there,” be descriptive and use words like “right” and “left” according to the way that I am facing. You can also use the position of the hands on a clock, like “the doorway is at 3 o’clock.”
- Guide Dogs
In addition to using a white cane, I may also use a guide dog to help me travel independently. The dog is my eyes when we are walking together. When my dog is wearing her harness, she is working to keep me safe. Petting or talking to her may distract her from her job.
- Let me know who you are and when you come and go.
I may not be able to see your face and may not recognize your voice, so be sure to let me know who you are when we meet or when you are speaking in a group.
- Push in your chair.
If I cannot see changes in my surroundings, the result could be an injury, so it’s important not to move personal items or furniture around without telling me. Open or close doors fully, push in your chair, don’t leave toys or other items on the floor, and keep pathways clear.