There are many causes of blindness and vision impairment and each individual is affected differently.
An individual is considered legally blind when they cannot see at six metres what someone with normal vision can see at 60 metres. An individual is also considered legally blind if their field of vision is less than 20 degrees in diameter rather than 180 degrees for a normal sighted person and there is no possibility of correcting a person’s vision through treatment or medical intervention.
The term ‘vision impaired’ simply means an individual has some degree of sight loss. Some forms of vision impairment can be corrected through the use of glasses or contact lenses. Other forms of vision impairment can be treated.
The four main eye conditions that lead to vision impairment include:
- Age-related Macular Degeneration
- Diabetic Retinopathy
No two people have the same vision loss, people with the same eye condition, may possibly have different levels of vision impairment.
With information, support and aids a person who is blind or vision impaired may continue to lead an active and independent life in their own community.
Various forms of vision impairment may mean that a person is able to see well in one environment or situation however has difficulty seeing in another environment or situation. For example, a person with night blindness may be able to see in daylight but cannot see at night or in darkened rooms.
People with vision impairment may:
- Have difficulty managing daily activities and moving independently in new or changed environments.
- Require assistance to enable the inclusion of people who are blind or vision impaired as students, employees or participants in sport and recreation.
- Require training in orientation and mobility.
When communicating with a person who is blind or vision impaired it is important to acknowledge that each person is an individual and should be approached. As such:
- Do not assume that people who are blind or have a vision impairment cannot comprehend because of the disability.
- Always face the person when speaking to them.
- Do Not Shout. Speak naturally and clearly. Loss of eyesight does not mean loss of hearing.
- Ask first if the person would like assistance.
- Speak directly to the person and not to someone who is with them.
- Introduce yourself by name, even if the person may already know you.
- If there are several people in the room (meeting), include a self introduction by all in attendance and address the person by name so they know they are being spoken to.
- Avoid moving around the room or leaving the room during the conversation and always advise the person you are doing so.
- Continue to use body language. This will affect the tone of your voice and give a lot of extra information to the person who is vision impaired.
- Use everyday language. Don’t avoid words like “see” or “look” or talking about everyday activities such as watching TV or videos.
- Be specific with verbal directions and instructions. Direct a person to their left or right, NOT yours.
- Be aware that a person who is blind or vision impaired will be disadvantaged about knowing what is going on. Therefore describe about what is happening.
- Do not leave people who are blind or vision impaired without telling them you are going.
Written Communication Strategies
- When providing information, do so in a format that is appropriate to the person’s needs.
- Ensure information and language used is appropriate to the individual’s needs
- When preparing written communication for a person with a vision impairment use font size suitable to person’s needs. It is suggested that bold 18 point font or larger be used.
Supporting people who are Blind or Vision Impaired
- Always ask first if help is needed.
- If they require assistance touch the back of their hand with yours and allow them to hold your arm just below the elbow. Remember to walk on the side opposite their cane or guide dog.
- Give the person a choice in using lifts, stairs or escalators.
- Use accurate and specific language when giving directions. For example, “the door is on your left”, rather than “the door is over there”.
- Open and close doors fully rather than leaving them ajar.
- Be aware that lighting needs can be quite different and ask the person.
- Always tell a person if you have moved objects or furniture.
People who use a guide or mobility dog
A guide dog or any animal trained to assist a person with a disability will be highly disciplined. Do not feed, pat or talk to a dog that has its harness on as this will distract them from working.
If the animal is inside, ask the owner if there are any special requirements for the dog i.e. water, exercise or toileting. Remember also that Anti-discrimination legislation makes it unlawful for guide dogs to be refused entry to any building or public transport.