While walking back from class one foggy night, someone recognized me and wanted to get my attention. In order to do this, they put their hand on my shoulder while standing behind me and started mumbling. Naturally, I screamed in their face and hit them, because I had no idea who they were, something they later got very offended over because they insisted I should have been able to see them. Following that experience, I have developed this guide on how to approach someone with low vision or blindness without terrifying them. I’ve written this post for people who may have a new friend with low vision or are not familiar with low vision in general.
State your name and where you are
When people approach me, they often say “hi Veronica, this is insert name here, I’m on your left.” That way, I know who it is and to turn and face them. For close friends or people who I am walking out to meet, they often just say what direction they are in and how far away they are- for example, when walking out to meet my friend who is right outside my door, she would say “three feet to the left!”
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Use verbal cues
Many new friends have been upset that I didn’t notice them waving to me when I walked by. It shouldn’t be much of a surprise, but I couldn’t see them. Verbal cues are much more effective, as it lets someone know to look for you. Never use flashing lights to alert the person to your presence, as sensitivity to flashing lights is very common for people with low vision. Don’t be afraid to say words like “see” or “view,” unless you are yelling to ask someone why they can’t see you.
Do not touch
Especially if they are a new friend, do not touch or attempt to interfere with a person’s movement or blindness cane. Grabbing them from behind is another bad idea, as they barely have eyes on the front of their head, let alone eyes on the back of their head. Try to keep yourself in their line of sight.
When delivering something
If you have to deliver an item to a person with low vision, have them meet you at a predetermined area- I usually meet them at the Starbucks which is in close proximity to my apartment. Don’t have them approach a car, as they may fear getting hit or have difficulty navigating a parking lot or busy street. Clearly identify your name and your affiliation, and say their name as well so that they know you are talking to them. Walk over to them as opposed to having them walk over to you. Also, alert them when you are handing them something, because otherwise the item might fall on the ground.
If they are using a guide
Talk to the person with low vision, not their guide, and make eye contact. The guide may describe you to the person with low vision, or act defensive if they do not recognize you. Again, identifying yourself is key. If their guide is not human (for example, a guide dog), do not attempt to distract the guide dog or ask to pet it.
All of this information may seem overwhelming at first, but it can be summarized with this sentence- no one likes a sneak attack. Also, once you have the person’s attention, there is no need to continue talking loudly, as they can probably hear you just fine.