TIPS FOR ASSISTING PEOPLE WHO ARE BLIND OR HAVE LOW VISION
Roughly three-quarters of the population who are "blind" are not totally blind, they have some residual vision. The tremendous variability in how persons who are visually impaired respond to their vision loss depends on how their respective eye conditions influence their vision. For example, some individuals who are visually impaired see primarily through the periphery of their visual field, as if the centre of their vision were blocked. Others can see only in the central portion of their visual field, as if they are looking through a tunnel. Still others may see in all sectors of their visual field, but what they see is distorted or blurred in some way.
If you suspect someone may need a hand, walk up, greet them and identify yourself. Always ask first to check if help is needed, listen to the reply and assist as required. Not all people who are blind or vision impaired will want assistance.
When speaking with a person who is blind or has low vision, be yourself and act naturally. You should also consider the following tips:
- Identify yourself - don't assume the person will recognise you by your voice, so introduce yourself, and in a group situation make sure you name the person when directing conversation to them. Never channel conversation through a third person.
- Speak naturally and clearly. Loss of eyesight does not mean loss of hearing.
- Use everyday language. Don't avoid using words like "see" or "look" or talking about everyday activities such as watching TV or videos.
- Never leave a conversation with a person without saying so.
- Use accurate and specific language when giving directions. For example, "the door is on your left", rather than "the door is over there".
GUIDING A PERSON WITH NO OR LOW VISION
Sometimes people who are blind or have low vision find it useful to be guided by another person. One way to do this safely and efficiently is to use sighted guide techniques. Please contact our Vision Rehabilitation Professional, Theresa McMordie, for information on sight guided techniques. Not all people with little or no sight will use these methods, so it is important to ask what (if any) specific assistance an individual may prefer or require. If assistance is needed, contact the back of their hand with the back of yours. They can then hold your arm just above the elbow.
When you start walking, make sure the person is a half step behind you and slightly to the side. Walk at a pace that is comfortable for both of you. Look ahead for obstacles at foot level, head height and to your sides.
Tell the person you are guiding that a narrow space is ahead. Move your guiding arm towards the centre of your back to indicate that they need to walk behind you. The person should step in behind you while still holding your arm. When you have passed through the narrow space bring your arm back to its usual position by your side.
When passing through a doorway, ensure the person who is blind or vision impaired is on the hinged side of the door. As you get close to the door, explain which way it opens. Open the door and walk through, allowing the person you are guiding to close it behind you using their free hand.
Steps and staircases
Stop at the first step and tell the person you are guiding whether the steps go up or down. Change sides if necessary to ensure the person you are guiding can use the handrail. Start walking when the person is ready, remaining one step ahead of them. Stop when you reach the end of the stairs and tell the person you are at the top or bottom.
Explain which way the chair is facing and where it is placed in relation to the rest of the room. Then walk up and place your guiding arm on the chair and explain which part of the chair you are touching. The person you are guiding can then move their hand down your arm to locate the chair to seat themselves.
Getting into a car
Tell the person you are guiding which way the car is facing and which door they will be getting into. Place your guiding arm onto the door handle and ask the person to move their hand down your arm.
Allow them to open the door and seat themselves. If the car is unfamiliar to them, place your arm inside on the roof so they can follow it and avoid bumping their head. Once seated, allow the person to close the car door.
IN THE HOME
- Do not relocate objects or furniture without telling the person who is blind or has low vision.
- Do not fill glasses or cups to the brim.
- When seating people who are blind or have low vision, put their hands on the back of the chair and they will then be able to seat themselves.
- Do not leave doors ajar. Close them or open them fully.
- Be aware that the person who is blind or has low vision will be disadvantaged by not seeing what is going on. Therefore talk about what is happening.