How to Help Someone Who Is Visually Impaired

The following article discusses ways of assisting people with visual impairment. These techniques will be useful for lay people looking to offer their help in day-to-day life, and for healthcare workers who may be providing care on a regular basis to visually impaired individuals.

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Assisting People With Visual Impairment

The techniques described in this article are based upon the expertise and recommendations of professionals who have refined and utilized these techniques. The ideal methodology will preserve the dignity of the person while providing the most effective techniques for providing assistance (if it is accepted).

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What Are Some Signs That Someone Needs Help?

Visually impaired people can often be identified by the equipment they are using such as a white cane, specialty glasses or optical and vision aids, or the use of a seeing-eye dog. It is important to consider that people with seeing-eye dogs may not need your help, since their dog is trained to deal with situations. Sometimes, people will ask for help outright. If they aren't asking for help, the following signs may be indications that they could use some assistance.

  • They appear to be struggling, or you intuit that they are having difficulty
  • They are definitely struggling with something (they drop something they are carrying)
  • They are in immediate danger or there is a potential hazard.
Rules For Assisting People With Impaired Vision

Rules For Assisting People With Impaired Vision

The following suggestions are a good blueprint:

  • Consider the person: People with visual impairment are not a monolithic entity. Every person is unique in terms of their age, character, functionality, life experience, and the nature of their impairment. All of these factors must be taken into account when offering assistance in terms of respecting their dignity, and in how you might go about providing help if it is accepted. 
  • Living with someone with low vision: If you live with someone with low vision, be mindful of keeping things in the same place since moving things around can be very frustrating for them. They may depend on memory of where things are, rather than vision. What might seem as a minor annoyance to someone else, can be very frustrating for someone with low vision.
  • Consider the environment: Always consider the environment. If your host is a visually impaired woman in her own home making you a cup of tea, she will likely be fine. This is obviously a different situation than a man with visual impairment who appears lost in a crowded mall. Always consider the environment.
  • Respect their dignity: People with impaired vision may be sensitive about their condition. Even a well-mannered individual can inadvertently say something that may offend. Address such people as you would any other person without pandering or appearing patronizing to them. Use your common sense.
  • Introduce yourself. Ask if they would like your assistance. Bear in mind that even if they know you well, they may have trouble recognizing you.
  • They may say no: They may not want your help. You can't force your assistance upon someone. Be polite and don't get insulted or be argumentative if your offer is refused. Naturally, if the individual is a small child, you need to consider the situation differently to ensure her safety.
  • Ask them what they would like you to do. In many instances, the individual knows precisely what they would like from you. They may say, "stand on my left side with your right arm on my left arm". You can ask them which side they would like you to stand on. 
  • Be precise and specific: Give detailed instructions about what you are doing beforehand and throughout your assistance. If you need them to do something, let them know in advance and explain what is happening. Give them plenty of time.
Rules For Assisting People With Impaired Vision

Rules For Assisting People With Impaired Vision

  • Techniques: Get familiar with current techniques for helping people with visual impairment to ambulate through tight spaces, negotiate staircases, and use doorways. Learn how to use your guiding arm to negotiate through crowds.
  • Inform them when you are finished. Let them know when you are leaving the area. Don't take it for granted that they know that you are finished. Make sure that you do not need additional help before leaving.
  • General Help: If you have friends or family with visual impairment, there are many opportunities to help them by driving them on errands and to appointments, and by offering to help around the house, etc. 
  • Encourage them to visit a low vision optometrist: If you are helping a family member, encourage them to schedule routine eye exams with a low vision optometrist. Accompany them to understand the best ways to assist them and help them maximize their visual abilities.
  • Follow Our Website & Social Media: Make sure to follow our website and social media, where we regularly post helpful videos and articles.
  • Encourage them to visit a low vision occupational therapist: A low vision occupational therapist will provide the tools and training for a person with vision loss to improve their functioning with everyday activities.
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