​Tips for medical professionals serving patients with vision loss.

By: Lynn Jensen, BSN, RN, CVRT

It is very easy to make a patient who is blind or partially sighted feel unwelcome, unsafe, misunderstood, and ignored. People with the best intentions in the world do it all the time, and many people with vision loss have experienced it. On the other hand, it is just as easy to make a person who is blind or partially sighted feel welcome, safe, understood, and informed.

I did not understand blindness until I learned the implications first hand. I lost my vision suddenly and unexpectedly eight months after graduating from nursing. For the past 11 years I have worked as a certified rehabilitation therapist. Through my experiences I have developed some basic tips for improving your interaction with patients who are blind or partially sighted. 

  1. Introduce yourself so your patient knows who you are and that you are speaking to them, “Hi Lynn, it’s Dr. O-Toole.”  Likewise, tell your patient that you are leaving the room so they do not continue to speak to you.
  2. If shaking hands, wait for your patient to extend their hand or do not be afraid to say, “May I shake your hand?”.
  3. Speak directly to your patient, not through an accompanying friend or family member.
  4. Use your natural voice and volume when speaking to your patient. The patient may have difficulty hearing you if there is background noise since they are not able to lip read.
  5. Do not rely on communicating via visual cues, facial expressions, and gestures.
  6. Use the clock-face method to describe where objects are, for example, “the examination table is at 2 o’clock.”
  7. Use everyday language. Do not be afraid to use terms like “see” and “look.” People with vision loss use these terms too.
  8. Warn the patient if you are going to touch them so they are not startled.
  9. In the hospital, close the bedside curtains to maintain privacy when discussing personal matters or performing personal procedures.
  10. When administering medications or performing procedures, explain what you are doing. The patient should be directly involved in their care.
  11. When assisting your patient to move around, it is best if you ask if they would like to take your elbow using sighted guide technique. Never push, pull, or grab your patient.
  12. If your patient has a guide dog, do not pet, feed, talk to, or even make eye contact with the working dog. This can distract the dog and put the person at risk for injury.
  13. Provide medication information, physician’s instructions, and other printed materials in a variety of formats, like large print, audio, electronic text, and Braille.
  14. Keep in mind that visual deficits can skew some physical and neurological exams.
  15. The patient’s type of vision loss will affect the way they see. If possible, position yourself in their area of best vision. Do not be afraid to ask your patient what they can or cannot see.