As I’ve grown up with sight loss, many people have asked me in what ways they can help me, what’s the best way of supporting me and what’s the best way of approaching me in certain situations.
The truth is, I don’t always need help and I’ve heard many other visually impaired people say the same. But, there are some things that people could do more of in order to help me in some way. As always, I’m not speaking on behalf of every blind/VI person out there in this post, these are purely things that would help me personally. I’m sure they can be applied to others as well but not everyone has the same needs.
There are many ways in which you can help someone who is blind or visually impaired – here are just a few.
Ask if a person needs help
Not everyone needs or wants help and that’s absolutely fine. Something that happens often to visually impaired people is someone grabbing us without a warning or without asking us if we need assistance or not. This isn’t the way of going about helping a visually impaired person and it’s more frightening than it is helpful so the first step to helping a blind/VI person is asking us if we need help in the first place.
Introduce yourself when you start a conversation
Every visually impaired person have varying levels of vision, some people might be able to make out some of your features when you walk up to them but others, like me, aren’t able to, so it’s always helpful when someone lets me know who they are. I can recognise voices quite well and I can normally tell who’s talking to me if I know them but if we’re in a crowded space or if we’ve not spoken much before, it’s not easy for me to recognise who you are. So, it makes it less awkward for me if you introduce yourself when initiating a conversation..
Say when you’re leaving the room
A #BlindGirlProblem I often experience is being left to talk to myself because I don’t know that the person I’m talking to has left the room. I have quite good hearing but I can’t always hear someone walking away and it’s not something that’s easy to sense. It might not always seem intuitive but letting a VI person know that you’re leaving the room saves them from any embarrassment when talking to thin air.
Add image descriptions on social media
This is a slightly more random point to throw into the mix but it’s something that many sight loss charities and visually impaired people alike are trying to raise more awareness of this year. As someone who lives with sight loss, I can’t see things such as photos so when they’re added into blog posts or included in a tweet, I have no idea what they are. For many people, visual content is just as important as something written so it’s helpful to gain an idea of what the photos people are putting up online consist of.
If you’re a blogger, you can add photo descriptions to your pictures by writing them in the ‘Alt Tags’ section when you’re editing your image (people normally use this for SEO purposes without knowing that it can benefit blind/VI people). Once you’ve added the description, it will be read to a visually impaired reader via the screen reader they use on their phone or computer.
If you’re a Twitter user, you can enable the option to add image descriptions in your settings – accessibility – then click the box next to ‘compose image descriptions’ – an option will then appear when you add a photo to a tweet which will prompt you to add a description to it. This allows visually impaired people like me to gain an idea of what photos people are posting so that we can appreciate them like sighted people.
A big helping factor for me is when people don’t assume things about me or my vision impairment. I know assumptions sometimes come naturally due to the misconceptions and stigmas that are out there but they can prove to be frustrating at times. When someone comes up to me and treats me like they’d treat anyone else, it makes the situation so much better than it would if that person were to assume something like I can’t speak for myself or that I can’t be independent because I’m visually impaired. Neither of the above are the case in any way and when people realise this, it makes things so much easier. Of course, people are entitled to ask any questions, within reason of course, as there is a lot of curiosity surrounding sight loss. I’m always happy to answer people’s questions but I prefer to do so when they don’t make assumptions about me before asking them.
Don’t stress about using words such as ‘look’ and ‘see’.
I’ve never heard a blind or visually impaired person say that they’re offended by the words above. They’re words we all use in our day-to-day lives so don’t stress about the fact that you think we might find it offensive because I can assure you that we don’t. You don’t need to change the language you use to speak to a visually impaired person, we all use the same words so no need to worry.
Give detailed descriptions
If you’re guiding a visually impaired person, let them know of any upcoming steps and if they go up or down. If someone asks you to tell them where their drink is, say to the left or wherever it might be, avoid saying things like ‘it’s just here’ or ‘it’s over there’.
Just be normal
In my experience, the best form of help is when people treat me normally. There is so much awkwardness that surrounds disability and it can be disheartening at times when people don’t consider me to be normal or treat me differently to how they’d treat someone else. I’m lucky in the sense that I have very supportive family and friends who don’t regard me as being any different because of my vision impairment and I’ve met so many other people who haven’t treated me any differently because of it. I just hope that, in time, others will be able to adopt the idea that vision impairment isn’t something that needs to be treated abnormally or awkwardly.
Those are just a few ways in which you can help a blind or visually impaired person. As I said, these points are taken from my own perspective and, although they might correlate with some, they won’t apply to every visually impaired person out there.
Are you also visually impaired? If so, what advice would you give to people with regard to helping you? I’d love to hear what you have to say.