In this series I’m sharing some tips on interacting with people who visually impaired or blind. Last time I talked about offering assistance and in this post, I’ll give you a few ideas that can make socialising more relaxed and more enjoyable for those of us with a visual impairment.
Perhaps you have recently met a new friend who is visually impaired, or someone you know has recently lost their vision. There are some small things you can bear in mind when socialising with them that will ensure their visual impairment is a non-issue in the context of your friendship. Becoming familiar with these things you can do, means you spend less time and energy focusing on their visual impairment which allows you both to relax and appreciate each other’s company. I am legally blind but in the right light, I have some central vision. The following tips work for me and although everyone is different, perhaps some can work for others too.
1. Talk about your usual topics
Don’t feel like you can’t talk about your visual interests. We too are interested in the arts, TV and books. All these things can be made accessible for people with a visual impairment. I go to theatre (although admittedly, less frequently post kids), watch TV (sometimes with audio description) and listen to audiobooks. I look forward to my friends’ book recommendations or hearing what they think of the latest television drama. Don’t assume we can’t discuss visual topics.
2. Don’t rule out certain activities
An extension of point 1. There are of course certain activities I wouldn’t take part in as a legally blind person, but most things sighted people do, blind people can also do and enjoy. I started ballet classes at the age of 3 and now, 30-something years later, I still go to a ballet class once a week. Some people are surprised that I do this, but it’s an example of something that can be enjoyed by sighted and blind people together, even though it’s not what you might initially think.
3. Dining out
Restaurants are often dimly lit and difficult for a visually impaired person to navigate, but that doesn’t have to stop you having a good time. If like me, your friend has a little vision, request a table by the window or in a well lit area. It’s worth asking if they have large print or braille menus. You can place your friend’s hand and on the back of the chair, so they can get seated. If the table has many decorations on it such as flowers and candles let them know so they don’t knock into things. If you’re reading a menu out loud, you don’t have to read the whole thing. I tend to know what kind of food I’m in the mood for, so I’ll ask my friend to read the pasta, or steak section (but seldom the salads!). Describing the plate of food in front of a blind person is a good idea. Use the face of a clock as a reference. “The chicken is at 3’o’clock and the chilli is at 9 ‘o’clock” should avoid any unexpected mouth burning moments! Due to my night blindness, I can sometimes make out pictures on a backlit phone better than the scene in front of me. A good friend of mine came up with the genius idea of taking a picture of my plate on her phome so I could zoom in and get an idea of where everything was.
4. Don’t move things around a blind person’s house
When you are visiting a blind person’s home try to remember that things are probably placed quite deliberately. Small things like phones, keys and remote controls are all quite tricky to find if you can’t see very well. We are also familiar with where furniture is in our home and can avoid bumping into chairs, bins and children’s toys if they are where we think they are. A chair that hasn’t been pushed in, or a drawer that isn’t closed properly and be a real pain, figuratively and literally!
5. Keep doors open or closed
Regardless of who’s home you are catching up in, try to keep doors fully open or fully closed. Walking into the side of a half open door is really annoying and so painful!
6. Introduce yourself before you start talking
Unless we know your voice well, it is a good idea to say who you are. It also lets us know you are talking to us and not someone else.
7. Tell us who’s there
In a group situation, let us know who is around and if you are standing in a circle, let us know who is on either side of us. If you are addressing a blind person in a group conversation, let them know by saying their name or touching their arm.
8. Make it clear when you are leaving
If you are ending a conversation or leaving the room, let us know. I have continued talking to myself after my companion has left more than once and it’s just a bit embarrassing.
9. Ask about our blindness if you want to
It’s not a taboo subject and as I have said before, the more people who learn more about blindness, the better. I am usually happy to answer any questions about my eyesight, but there’s so much to talk about that it’s not a topic that comes up that often. Everyone is different though and your friend may feel differently so take your cue from them.
10. Forget about the sight loss
The points above will become second nature and you will find that you concentrate on the person, rather than the sight loss. Your focus becomes the fun you have together and the conversations and experiences you share.
Whilst these tips work for me, they might not work for all blind people, so bear them in mind but be flexible with them.
Once you master number 10, you can forget the rest because you do them naturally. My closest friends do 1-9 without thinking about it.They do these things automatically and it doesn’t distract from what we are doing or what we are talking about.
Last year my best friend was getting married and wanted to go coasteering for her hen party (not a particularly blind-friendly activity!). She never once questioned whether I was capable of doing it. She simply said we would tell the instructors, check it was safe for me to take part and that was the end of it. And so, I did it. On a July day, with fifteen other girls, I found myself scaling cliffs, swimming across bays and jumping off rocks around the beautiful Scarborough coast. The instructors gave me detailed descriptions of my surroundings and clear instructions of what I needed to do. It was exhilarating and I had a lot of fun. My friend truly gets it. She understands that while my blindness can’t be ignored, it also isn’t a barrier to any part of our friendship (and certainly isn’t an excuse for not donning a wetsuit and jumping into the freezing North Sea in celebration of her upcoming nuptials)!
I hope you enjoyed these tips for socialising with a visually impaired person and that you will check in again next time when I talk about working with a visually impaired colleague. If you missed my previous post, you may want to catch up on my tips for Offering Assistance to a blind person.
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