This month, WestGroupe is partnering up with the Canadian National Institute for the Blind (CNIB) to celebrate World Sight Day and raise awareness. For many sighted people, they may feel apprehensive when meeting someone who is visually impaired or blind and have plenty of questions on how to act or react.
David Demers, director of the Quebec charter of the CNIB, lost his sight before he turned 30. At the time, he was a photographer at the peak of his career, when all of a sudden, he lost everything, quite literally at the blink of an eye. Watch the video below to learn more about his story:
Here are the do’s and don’ts when meeting someone who is visually impaired or blind. These tips are useful for sighted clients and can be a way to raise awareness.
When offering your help to a person who is visually impaired, David says it’s important to begin with announcing your presence and introducing yourself. The most important thing to keep in mind is to always ask if they need help. A common mistake is that sighted people often grab and guide a person who is visually impaired because they assume the person is struggling to find their way. This is false, people who are visually impaired have adapted to their surroundings and are very comfortable getting around. Over the years, they’ve become accustomed to their visual impairment and have found ways to get around. However, if you believe someone is struggling, introduce yourself and ask if they require any assistance. “Never assume someone needs help”, says David. This can be disorienting and cause them to lose their path. David recounts a story of getting to work using the subway station in his hometown of Montreal. Since losing his sight, he has been able to adapt his methods of getting through the subway system with ease. One day however, someone grabbed him and pulled him onto the subway cart as the doors were closing. This caused David to panic and as a response, David grabbed the person and yanked on him as well to showcase how disorienting it can feel when a stranger acts this way.
Here’s a simple guide to follow when helping someone who is visually impaired
ENGAGING IN CONVERSATION
Often times, sighted people may feel uneasy during an interaction with someone who is visually impaired or blind. David says it’s important to realize that people who are visually impaired or blind are still people, and though some interactions may need to be adapted, they should still be addressed as usual. He finds it frustrating when he is out with his wife or his friends and family and people never address him directly. For example, while shopping with his wife, David was looking to purchase a new phone case but the sales clerk only addressed his wife, never David himself. He says this can be frustrating and quite insulting because he is still able to hear, so people shouldn’t feel uncomfortable talking to him directly, especially when it pertains to him.
As a practice, it’s important to realize that sun lenses are very important for people who are visually impaired. Not only to protect their eyes from the sun but also as a fashion statement. When people who are visually impaired come to your office, help them understand your product with descriptive language to describe your product. Even if they come with a friend, family member or guide, you are the specialist selling them a product. Address them directly and explain the features and benefits of your products.
It’s helpful to use descriptive language in order to properly describe images, objects or directions for people who are visually impaired
CREATING AN ACCESSIBLE OFFICE
It’s important for sighted people to understand that people who are visually impaired or blind just want to be treated like everyone else. When someone who has low vision walks into your clinic or office, it’s important to ensure they feel safe and are able to get around with ease. A guide dog, a cane or trusted loved one can help them find their way around but there are steps your practice could take to ensure they feel safe.
SIMPLE WAYS TO MAKE YOUR OFFICE ACCESSIBLE FOR PEOPLE WHO ARE VISUALLY IMPAIRED
- Always push chairs into tables
- Keep doors entirely open or entirely closed
- Keep cupboard doors closed
- Describe the layout of your office as they enter
- Verbalize in detail all caution signs when present (wet floor, staircase, etc.)
- Avoid using excess or harsh lighting
- Always allow access to guide dogs
At the end of the day, David says the most important thing to remember is that people who are visually impaired, are still people. Treat them as you would anyone else but be open to adapting certain mannerisms in order to accommodate their impairment.