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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.