On December 3rd, the International Day of Persons with Disabilities will be observed worldwide. Started in 1992 with support from the United Nations, this day seeks to foster inclusion for all who live with disabilities by promoting dignity, respect, and community inclusion. The theme for 2016 is “Achieving 17 Goals for the Future We Want.”
In keeping with the celebration of this day, we will focus on disability etiquette as it applies to people who are blind or visually impaired. Be sure to read, “Speak to Me,” Part 2 of this post.
A study sponsored by Perkins School for the Blind discovered that 53 percent of the survey respondents stated they had not interacted with a blind or visually impaired person within the last year. When we aren’t accustomed to encountering someone with a particular disability, it’s natural to be a bit uneasy. Fortunately, education can go a long way to equip one with useful tips to remember when you meet someone who has a visual impairment. Following these suggestions will aid in including the individual in everyday events, which will make both of you feel more comfortable.
Ten Useful Tips for When You Meet Someone with a Visual Impairment
- Remember the individual is a person first with many other characteristics besides vision loss.
- Speak before making physical contact to avoid startling him/her. Be sure to introduce yourself by name and anyone else who is accompanying you. If you have met the person previously, don’t play the game of “guess who I am – I met you last year.”
- Always verbally tell the person when you are walking away and when you have returned. Nobody wants to feel foolish talking to thin air.
- If you think he/she needs help, ask before you rush in to assist. When help is accepted, ask the best way to give the help and respect his/her wishes.
- Do not talk, feed, pet, or in any way interact with a person’s guide dog as your actions may distract the dog from performing its job, which is to assist its handler in traveling safely.
- Direct any questions to the individual – not to a companion. Example, “What does he want to drink?”
- Guide an individual by offering your arm and letting him/her hold your arm above your elbow, walking slightly behind you. This technique makes it easier for the person to follow your movements, and be sure to pause and describe steps or curbs (up or down). You may also mention what you see that may be of interest (store, flowers, etc).
- Give specific directions to avoid using words such as “over there,” or “over here.”
- It’s okay to use words like “see,” and “look,” in conversation; these words are an integral part of our vocabulary no matter how we see the world around us.
- Understand that people who live with visual impairments enjoy many of the same things you do – movies, recreation, reading and so on. Impaired vision is just a part of life they come to accept.