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Be Natural! 4 Common Courtesies to Offer People Who Are Blind

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When we connect with those who are blind and engage them in our lives and communities, everyone is better for it. Don’t avoid connections because you don’t know what to say or how to act around someone who’s blind.

It doesn’t have to be awkward! Here are some tips to help you make rewarding connections with people around you who have sight loss:

1. Be natural

When you’re talking to someone who’s blind, act like you normally would with anybody. People with sight loss just want to be treated with courtesy and respect – just like everybody else.

  • Identify yourself when you approach a person with sight loss. Introduce yourself by name and wait for them to offer their hand to be shaken. In a group setting, address the person by their name so they know you’re talking to them.
  • There’s no need to speak differently! Talk in a normal tone, speed, and volume the way you would with other people.
  • Address the person with sight loss directly. Don’t just talk to the person they’re with, or in the case of someone who’s Deafblind, their intervenor. No one wants to be made to feel invisible or excluded – and people who are blind are no exception.
  • It’s normal to not want to say the ‘wrong’ thing to someone who is blind. Rest assured, saying sight-related phrases like “it’s nice to see you!” or “Watch out!” to someone with sight loss will not cause offense! People who are blind or partially sighted use these phrases too.

 2. Be inclusive

When places, events, and situations are inaccessible and lack a sense of inclusiveness, everyone misses out. Aim for full inclusivity in everything you do, and your relationships and community will be better for it!

  • Include people who are blind in activities and events. Never assume someone can’t or won’t want to do something. People who are blind enjoy the same things sighted people do – they just do them differently.
  • Keep accessibility in mind so a person who is blind can participate on an equal footing. This may mean making sure a physical space is free of clutter and hazards or having printed materials available in the person’s format of choice.

3. Be considerate

Being inclusive and accessible isn’t just about physical spaces. It’s also about being empathetic, considerate, and respectful.

  • Don’t make someone who’s blind guess your voice. Introduce yourself by name every time you greet them.
  • Don’t be afraid to ask questions but do be respectful. Since each person experiences blindness in a unique and individual way, it’s always wise to avoid making assumptions about the person and their sight loss. If you have questions about what you can do, what language or terminology is appropriate or preferred, or what assistance – if any – might be needed, just ask! You don’t need to walk on eggshells with a person just because they’re blind.
  • Give people who are blind or partially sighted their personal space. You may offer to be a sighted guide when in a new, unfamiliar, or crowded environment. But never assume someone needs a guide – and never grab or touch them without permission.
  • Never pet or distract a working guide dog. We know they’re cute, but when guide dogs are working, they’re responsible for keeping their handlers safe. Avoid doing anything that will distract guide dogs from doing their job, such as petting, grabbing their harness, giving them treats, or calling out to them. Distracting a guide dog while they’re working can put their handlers in danger!

4. Be descriptive

Giving someone who’s blind descriptive cues can help make things, places, and social situations more accessible.

  • Social events can be a source of anxiety for anyone – but you can help make things more comfortable. If you’re meeting around a table, do introductions to identify who’s sitting where. It’s also important to verbally acknowledge when someone has entered or left a room or a conversation. If the person who’s blind doesn’t know, they may find themselves talking to someone who isn’t there.
  • When you’re giving directions, be as specific as you can. Instead of saying, “The door is over there,” or pointing and gesturing, say: “The door is on your right, about 20 feet down the hallway.” Avoid using visual cues when giving directions like “It’s beside the red bag” – and don’t forget to describe things from the person’s perspective, not yours!
  • At meals, describe how food is arranged on the plate. Use the face of a clock as a reference: “Your salad is at four o’clock and your steak is at 10 o’clock.”