It has never been a secret that many are not comfortable around those are blind, visually impaired or disabled, even though one out of every five people have some type of limitation or disability.
It can take a bit of time to get comfortable with being blind or visually impaired and it can take even longer for people to become comfortable around us.
As a legally blind person I have learned that, interacting with the public has revealed a shocking number of social mores. We can cause so much stress for others when we walk into a room with sunglasses and a white cane. There have been times I have felt entirely invisible and other times when I feel patronized.
If you have never really gotten to know a person who is blind, visually impaired or those with another type of physical or mental disability, here are some tips that will help you interact with those with disabilities.
Introduce yourself when speaking with the visually impaired.
This is something you should normally do anyway, but in the case of where someone is blind or visually impaired, it should be done right away just to let them know you are near and it also gives them a better opportunity to "see" their surroundings.
Don't talk louder.
There are still many that unknowingly do one of the most offensive things you can do when communicating and interacting with someone who is blind or visually impaired and that is talking to us in a loud voice. I have seen this happen with other disabilities as well. Most of us are not hearing impaired and it is both startling and demeaning.
Talk to us, not whoever is with us.
It can be hard to watch and even more difficult to endure. Next time you are at a restaurant and see someone with an obvious disability, watch how the waiter or waitress interacts with them. Sadly, most often, they will ask the person or persons who they are with what they would like to order instead of the person themselves. Blindness does not affect a person's ability to think for themselves.
Try to avoid patronizing remarks and remarks such as "you are so inspirational".
People with disabilities usually do not like being referred to as inspirational for simply living their lives. We are just trying to live like everyone else. Words such as "I am impressed" and "you are so brave" should be avoided. Just remember, that we are not much different than you or anyone else.
Ask before assisting.
I know you are trying to be helpful but please resist from automatically helping us without asking first. We know when to ask for help. Just wait for us to speak up. Even if it seems like we're too shy to ask, please don't grab our jacket and help us put it on without asking. You would not like someone barging into your personal space and the same goes for us.
Remember the Golden Rule.
If you are ever in doubt about how you should treat us, always refer to the Golden Rule which is beautifully simple – treat others as you would like to be treated. It really is as simple as that when interacting with anyone and everyone.