Interacting with a blind/VI person: Do’s and Don’ts

Some people can feel a little awkward when interacting with a blind/VI person, they might not know what to do or say because they haven’t come across anyone who is vision impaired before.

I for one completely understand that people can be skeptical, after all, that voice in the back of your mind which makes you worry that you’ll say the wrong thing can be a little daunting. But honestly, there’s nothing to be scared of when interacting with a blind/VI person.

A photo of Elin in front of a pretty white fence with trees in the backgroundPIN IT

I could write just one sentence for this post – ‘Just talk and interact with us like you would with anyone else’ but I know that for some people, it’s not that straightforward. 

Disability can be a foreign concept for a lot of people, it’s not something everyone comes across in their day to day lives which means it’s understandable when they’re a little awkward around a disabled person. 

But I’m here to tell you that you don’t need to be awkward or feel uncomfortable, we’re not aliens, you don’t need to talk to us any differently or be afraid of holding a conversation or interacting with us in any way. 

I know it must seem a little daunting or overwhelming when we talk about things you shouldn’t do or say when interacting with a blind/VI person, it might leave you wondering what you should do, what you can say and maybe that can lead to even more uncertainty.

So, I thought instead of just listing what not to do, I’d also give you some pointers in terms of things you should do or say in the hope that it can help in some way. 

A photo of Elin standing on a quiet street in London, a white wall and houses can be seen in the backgroundPIN IT

I should also say that I’m not writing this to cause offence in any way and I don’t want to scare you off by telling you what you should or shouldn’t do because at the end of the day, you should just be yourself.

And as always, I’m speaking in terms of my own personal preferences here. No blind or vision impaired person is the same so I certainly can’t speak for all of us.

I just want to write this to give some people a helping hand and to hopefully educate others on what can lead to awkwardness when interacting with a blind/VI person by mentioning some things that can prevent that from happening.

INTERACTING WITH A BLIND/VI PERSON – DO’S AND DON’TS

DO include us

The most important thing is that you include us in conversation.

I have felt excluded so many times in the past, especially when I was in school because some people didn’t think it was ‘cool’ to talk to a vision impaired person and others weren’t sure what to say because, to them, I wasn’t normal.

I might not be normal but it’s nothing to do with my vision impairment.

Some situations and environments can be a little harder for blind/VI people and it can be difficult since we can’t see non-verbal cues, so when you naturally include us in conversation, it can take any loneliness or isolation away.

DON’T ask ‘do you know who this is?’

Asking us whether we know who we’re talking to can lead to a lot of awkwardness and I’ve been left feeling quite uncomfortable whenever I’ve been asked this in the past. 

Vision impairment isn’t a game, we don’t want to play guess who.

DO introduce yourself/make yourself known to us

If you’re someone we haven’t spoken much to before then chances are that we won’t recognise your voice so to avoid any awkwardness, it’s a good idea to introduce yourself, simply saying ‘Hey Elin, it’s Mandy’ can take any questioning away. 

Also, a simple tap on my arm or saying my name when you’re talking to me means that I know it’s me you’re talking to. I can often be left confused as to whether someone is talking to me or the person next to me because I can’t see who they’re looking at.

Simple things like this can make all the difference. 

A photo of Elin in front of a pretty white fence with trees in the backgroundPIN IT

DON’T talk to the person that’s with us rather than talking to us directly

This is one of the most common things that happens to me when it comes to people interacting with me, or not in this case. 

It still happens to this day, when I’m out and about with my mum, a friend or anyone else and someone realises that I’m vision impaired, they will talk with the person I’m with rather than with me directly. 

This can be really frustrating and it also feels very belittling at times. 

But, unless someone is also hearing impaired, you can talk to us directly, don’t be afraid!

DO ask if we need help, DON’T assume that we do. 

If you see a blind/VI person out and about and you’re wondering if we need help or not whether that’s to hop on a train or to cross the road, don’t instantly assume that we’ll need your assistance. 

You should never touch or grab a blind/VI person in your efforts to try to help, it can be more scary than helpful.

Many vision impaired people are confident when doing things independently whilst others might appreciate a helping hand so it’s always better to ask. 

A photo of Elin looking down, trees and houses can be seen in the backgroundPIN IT

DO use everyday language

You don’t have to be afraid of saying words such as look, see or watch. I might not be able to see much but I watch the telly and say things like ‘it’s nice to see you’, so you can too! 

DON’T shout

Some people have shouted at me in the past because they thought I couldn’t hear as well as see. Whilst some vision impaired people also have hearing impairments, it’s not the case for many people so there’s no need for you to raise your voice.

DO ASK QUESTIONS BUT BE MINDFUL OF WHAT YOU’RE ASKING

I always encourage people to ask questions about my vision impairment. At the end of the day, if people stray away from asking questions, they might not learn about the realities of life with sight loss and they could keep believing the misconceptions. 

But of course, not everyone wants to be approached about their vision impairment, it might be something completely new to some people or something which they’re not very comfortable in talking about so it’s important to be mindful of what you’re asking. 

Also, try not to bombard us with questions, more than a couple in a conversation can be a little overwhelming. 

I’ve spoken before about some frequently asked questions I receive and also some of the most random things I’ve been asked about my vision impairment, some of the most random are ones I’d suggest you avoid asking. 

DO give detailed descriptions and directions

Saying ‘it’s over there’ doesn’t give us any context since ‘there’ could be anywhere.

If we ask where something is whether that’s an object or a place, giving detailed directions means that we’ll find what we’re looking for much quicker. 

You could say something along the lines of, ‘walk ten yards down the road and it will be to your left’ or ‘the chair is 4 yards to your right’, the more detail the better. 

The same goes if you’re trying to describe a photo or an object, a lot of us will appreciate as much detail as you can possibly give us.

DON’T panic, just be yourself

Some people panic or get a little flustered when disability is mentioned, they might see a mobility aid like a cane as a barrier but there’s honestly no reason why it should be. 

If you talk to us like you would with anyone else, awkwardness can be avoided but if you are unsure about something or hesitant about what ways you can help, just ask, there’s never any harm in asking. 

A photo of Elin wearing a white knitted high neck jumper, black skinny jeans and a camel coatPIN IT

The main thing is that you see us just like any other person. We might have to do some things a little differently to you but that shouldn’t be a barrier to interacting with a blind/VI person in any way.

What advice would you give people when interacting with a blind/VI person? Do you have any awkward stories to share about experiences you’ve had when someone hasn’t been 100% sure about how to interact with you? Let me know as I’d love to hear from you.

Elin x

Comment

10 Comments

  • Amanda
    March 10, 2019

    Thank you so much for this article. I’m always trying not to offend people and this post will help me in my quest. In my home town we have a blind man who works at a local bank as receptionist and he function without any help. I will in future engage more in chatting with him.

    • myblurredworld@gmail.com
      Amanda
      March 12, 2019

      Thank you so much to you for reading, I’m really glad you found the post helpful.

  • Holly
    March 10, 2019

    This is such an informative post hun, I’m sure many sighted people will find it helpful xxx

    • myblurredworld@gmail.com
      Holly
      March 12, 2019

      Thank you lovely, let’s hope so xxx

  • Sarah
    March 12, 2019

    As always, I love this post and find myself getting lost in your writing. This has been a very useful read because sometimes I don’t want to mention something that might be offensive. But I do know for sure that I speak to anyone with a disability as if they’re not disabled because I don’t view them as “different”. I never find myself put off by minority groups and hope that I’m inclusive to everyone! This has helped me know how I can help visually impaired people, but also what to avoid. Thanks for sharing Elin x

    • myblurredworld@gmail.com
      Sarah
      March 15, 2019

      Thank you so much Sarah, your comments are always so lovely! I’m really glad you think the post is useful. Thanks for reading as always xx

  • Life As Najida
    March 16, 2019

    Personally, i have never met anyone visually impaired before so this will definitely come in handy as I may in the future! Loved the post x

  • Neil
    March 28, 2019

    This is a good post.

    A couple of thoughts from a deafblind perspective:

    “Don’t talk to the person that’s with us rather than talking to us directly”

    Absolutely. Even if a blind person also has a hearing impairment, you should address them directly. If the person with them is acting as an assistant, they will step in as needed and you can take your cue from them.

    “Don’t shout”

    This, over and over. Hearing-impaired people with useful residual hearing will often be wearing hearing aids, which will be set to work best at normal conversational volume. If you shout, you’re liable to overload the hearing aids and you will get worse results, not better. People with hearing impairments can always ask you to speak up if need be.

  • Abi Howard
    April 10, 2019

    It all sounds so obvious when you write it down, but I’m definitely one of those people that really overthinks and worries about saying something wrong or unintentionally offensive! Thank you for writing this, at least I now know I’m not alone!

    Abi | https://whatabigailsays.co.uk/

    • myblurredworld@gmail.com
      Abi Howard
      April 12, 2019

      I think it’s more common than you think, I’m glad the post could help in some way – Thank you for reading!

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