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Summary: Read more about simple hints and tips on ways you can assist a person with sight loss
Simple do’s and dont’s
Contrary to popular belief, most people with sight loss can see something. A minority of blind people can distinguish light but nothing else. Some people have reduced central vision, others have no side vision. Some people see everything as a vague blur; others see a patchwork of blanks. There are a variety of eye conditions that can cause different types of sight loss.
Some people are born with no vision or significantly reduced vision; others lose vision due to accidents or later in life. The effect of the sight loss varies widely, depending on the condition, its progress and the person’s managing skills. Therefore, it is important to speak to the person about what assistance they requires so that their individual needs can be met.
Here are some hints and tips on ways you can assist a person with vision impairment:
- Greet a person by saying your name, as he or she may not recognise your voice. Do not ask or expect them to guess who you are, even if they know you.
- Talk directly to the person rather than through a third party. It’s easier if you know the person with sight loss by name – say their name when you are speaking to them. If you don’t know their name don’t be afraid to ask, as well as giving your own name.
- Do try to speak clearly, facing the person with sight loss while you do so.
- In a group situation, introduce the other people present. Address the person with sight loss by name when directing conversation to them in a group situation.
- If someone joins or leaves the group, tell the person with sight loss that this has happened.
- Don’t be afraid to use terms like ‘see you later’. People with sight loss use these expressions too.
- Before giving assistance, always ask the person first if they would like help, and if they do, ask what assistance is needed. Do not assume what help they need.
- If a person with sight loss says that they would like to be guided, offer your elbow. Keep your arm by your side and the person with sight loss can walk a little behind you, holding your arm just above the elbow.
- When assisting, it is helpful to give commentary on what is around the person, for example, ‘the chair is to your right’.
- If you are giving directions, don’t point. Give clear verbal directions, for example ‘the door is to your left’.
- Don’t assume that because a person can see one thing that they can see everything. If necessary, ask the person if they can see a particular landmark or object.
- Similarly, don’t assume that a person using a white cane or guide dog is totally blind. Many people with some remaining vision use these.
- Never distract a guide dog when in harness.
- Always let a person with sight loss know when you are approaching. A sudden voice at close range when they didn’t hear anyone approach can be very startling. Speak first from a little distance away, and again as you draw closer.
- If you’ve been talking to a person with sight loss, tell them when you are leaving, so that they are not left talking to themselves.
- If you have been guiding a blind person and have to leave them, bring them to some reference point that they can feel, like a wall, table or chair. To be left in open space can be disorientating for a person with no vision.
- Be punctual. Unpunctuality can cause a person with sight loss unnecessary stress. Remember too that the person may not be able to see whether you have arrived.
- Indoors: To avoid the possibility of someone banging their head, close all doors and cupboards.
- Outdoors: if you see head-height obstacles ahead of a person using a white cane or guide dog, warn them. A cane cannot locate head-height obstacles and a guide dog might not always be able to do so.
- If you need to move something in the home of a person with vision impairment, tell the person. If possible, replace the item where it was so that they can find it when you are gone. Remove any hazardous items.
Assistance you can offer to a person with sight loss in a restaurant
- Offer to read the menu.
- If you are filling up a person’s glass or cup, don’t fill it to the brim, in case it spills as they lift it.
- Before doing so, ask the person if they would like you to refill their cup. If you refill it without telling them, it could cause a spill.
- Before eating a meal, offer to describe the location of food on the person’s plate as corresponding to the numbers on a clock face. For example, tell the person that their hamburger is at 3 o’clock and their chips are at 9 o’clock.
- You can also use this method to describe the location of other items on the table; for example, if the dinner plate is directly in front of the person, you can say that the ketchup is above the plate at 1 o’clock, and the person’s glass is at 2 o’clock.
Get More Information
NCBI can also offer support and advice about meeting and greeting a person with sight loss, how you can best offer assistance, and good customer service. It may be helpful too for NCBI staff to train other staff in how to guide a person with sight loss safely.
To discuss further, contact NCBI on LoCall 1850 33 43 53 or read more information on disability awareness training.