Tips on how to socialize with the visually impaired

 

In case this is your first time navigating through this  blog, I need to tell you that it is fully written in Portuguese, which is my native language. However I thought it would be a good idea to deliberately translate this specific article to English, so I could share this information also with my non-Brazilian friends. In the other hand, if you want to read the other posts published in this blog, there are three links on the side bar on your left (English, Esp”nol and Italiano) that you can use to  translate the whole web site into one of those three languages. You can also, after clicking on any one of those, change the target language to anyone in the world (PS: this is an auto translation from Google, so I cannot guarantee this is 100% accurate).


Well, the articles published here are usually very anecdotal and, in a certain way, ludic. In other words, lists are not very like me. But I find it very pertinent to share this type of information, which I believe is also a mirror of my reality and reflects a little bit of my perspective of the world. I'm going to try to create connections between the tips that I'm going to provide below and the chronicles that are already here in this blog, which also helps if you want to have more in-depth examples and digressions on what we're talking about here today.

Before we even start, it's worth reminding you who read me now that, with the exception of Oedipus and Shiryu*, who pierced their own  eyes in order to become blind,, no visually impaired person opted for their condition and, unfortunately, the world around us is not well adapted for our reality. Therefore we already (and always) make a lot of concessions and are constantly reinventing ourselves in order to better adapt to the world around us. Hence, the purpose of this article is to  remember ourselves that communication is a two-way street, in other words, both ends must give a little bit away so a connection of ideas and minimal coexistence can be created between ourselves.

Furthermore I write from my own perception of the world, that is, I have no pretensions of representing all the visually impaired. Every human being is different and can act and react in different ways to the situations described below. So, more than tips for interacting with a generic and visually impaired being, this article brings tips on how to socialize with me, a unique human being with unique limitations.

Finally I want to emphasize that this article is about tips to facilitate social interaction, not rules or laws; therefore, you are not obligated to follow my suggestions. Nevertheless, I can assure you that focusing your attention on the points below, and perhaps expanding them to your social life (with people with disability or not), will surely make you a better person.

Let's get to the tips.

 

            1.      acknowledge your ignorance

The first step to reach knowledge is to acknowledge your own ignorance. This is the basis of Socratic thinking and also a tip for life as a whole. So it fits very well into our example here today.

It's perfectly acceptable for you not to know how to act in front of a visually impaired person, so talk and ask, rather than just assume what the correct way to behave is.

            2.      Let us speak

We have talked a lot about this, but it is important to emphasize here that only people with a disability can speak properly about their situation. That doesn't mean, however, that I don't count on your help and voice for my cause. No way! In fact, I do wish you to understand me and empathize with my condition. However, if you want to offer your support, give us a voice and let us speak and express by ourselves. (It is worth remembering what I wrote above, that is, that I do not intend to speak for all the disabled, meaning each being is unique)

            3.      Tell me who you are

Unless you are someone whose voice is very familiar to me, whenever you meet me, start the conversation by introducing yourself verbally.

        4.       Announce your gestures

When you meet me, you might want to shake my hand, hug me, or kiss me on the cheek (very common in Brazilian culture). That's okay, but understand that I won't be able to see your approaching gesture, so it's always important to get ahead of me and say: “Shake here my hand” or “can I give you a hug?”.

In addition, this tip is not only valid for greetings, but for any situation in which you expect my reaction to your action. For example, when you hand me a glass of water, you can say: “Take the glass of water here, just extend your hand.”.

        5.       Address direct to me

If you meet with a visually impaired adult who enjoys their cognitive faculties, and want to ask him/her a question, for example, address your words directly to him (or her), that is, asking the question to this person's companion is extremely disrespectful.

Believe me, unfortunately this is very common to happen.

        6.        Go slow with your gestures

This tip seems pretty obvious, but I'm not just referring to the fact that you shake your head instead of saying “Yes” or “No” (which is terrible). Also, words like “over there”, “over here and “here” are not very helpful in communicating with a visually impaired person.

        7.       Describe and transcribe

Learn to describe objects, situations and scenes. The more details you can convey, the better our communication will be. Besides that, this will make my life way easier.

Example: Let's say we're at a bar and I say I want to go to the restroom. You don't necessarily need to accompany me there, but it will be very good if you can describe to me the path and possible obstacles that I will encounter on my way.

        8.       Talk to me!

We all like to talk. Don’t we? (or at least almost everybody). Interacting with a visually impaired person is then your opportunity to say things you wouldn't say in a more trivial conversation. For example, you can detail a tree that is near you, or an image of a billboard, or you can narrate a scene you are seeing. I will feel much more included if, instead of being silent, you share what is around us.

        9.       Don't play the healer

Do not suggest miraculous healing, shamanism, prayers, or seventh sense (in the case of Shiryu) to anyone with a disability. This is a very sensitive subject and is best dealt with in the article The ableism within Religion.

        10.    No, your myopia is not a parameter

This is a tricky topic, because I understand that when you tell me about your myopia, you're trying to be sympathetic towards me; and this is very valid. However be careful to not give the impression that you are complaining about your situation or trying to put our cases on a same level of comparison.

        11.    My body, my rules

Again, this is a basic rule in social life: You don't touch a person's body without their consent. But even so, in the eagerness to help, people want to grab, push and pull the visually impaired so that he or she is guided along the right path.

To avoid this type of problem, instead of forcing clumsy maneuvers, simply offer your arm or shoulder for the blind person to hold on to. That way the two of you will be able to walk smoothly and will be protected from accidents and stumbling.

Note: this tip also applies to my white canes, Filomena and Severina - read the text But, what about the old man?.

        12.    One help… one!

Socializing with a visually impaired person doesn’t need to be painful for any parties. Therefore, it is essential that you do not feel obligated to offer help at all times.

Take the example where you and others (including a visually impaired person) sit around a table at a feast.  Instead of constantly saying: "Would you like some bread?", or "Would you like a piece of cheese?" and so on, make a summary of everything on the table and offer your help with whatever is needed. If you have inspired confidence in what you said and left the communication channel open, I will feel comfortable asking for help when I need.

        13.    Turn down the volume

When you receive a visually impaired person in your home and want to play music to accompany dinner, Just do it. But remember that we are much more dependent on hearing than other people, so try not to overdo the volume as this can cause unnecessary disorientation and fatigue.

        14.    Can we talk about my disability?

Speaking for me, there's no problem with that. Logically, this will depend on person to person and how they deal with their own disability. It is generally fully recommended to talk about our condition. Personally, I believe that my disability is no longer taboo.

        15.    We can talk about other things too

While it's acceptable and recommendable to talk about my disability, I logically don't want to talk about just that. I think I have a lot of interesting experiences in me to share and, again, disability is part of me, but it doesn't define me as a human being. It's worth reading the article From Tetris to the Super Bowl.

        16.    Put your messages all together

If you want to send me a text message that contains three sentences, for example, it's better that you assemble the sentences into a single message. That's because, depending on which reading assistant I use, I might be replying to your first message while you're still sending me the second one, meaning the last one will be lost. Also, I need to click on the message for it to be read, so a small message requires more attention so that it doesn't get ignored.

        17.    Go easy on emojis

Voice assistants or screen readers also pronounce the emoji sent in text messages. That's why it's quite inconvenient when you're given that multitude of emojis and the screen reader speaks one by one.

        18.    Audio or text?

Well it really depends. I particularly tend to say that it's better that you write to me instead of sending an audio, because depending on the situation I'll activate my reading assistant, which, for now, doesn't play audios automatically and, even if I use the screen reader, I have to locate the “Play” button, which is not always an easy task.

        19.    Images are ignored

For obvious reasons, I ignore images sent to me. Mainly because not all apps have a built-in image description system and even those that do exist are quite limited. But sending me an image is not necessarily an offense, as long as it is accompanied by a description from your part.

        20.    Use only one language 

 When we are chatting in person or on the phone, feel free to show off all your polyglolism and use expressions in the most varied languages ​​that are accessible to us. Use your vast technological wisdom to add German words or demonstrate your culinary skills by introducing French in the middle of your sentence. I will most likely understand you, as I am an intelligent being. But my computer or cell phone screen readers don't have the same cognitive powers.

So when writing to a visually impaired person, stick to the language that is common to both of you, because screen readers get totally lost and brutally inaudible with multiple languages ​​merged into one single text.

 

            Finally, my intention here is not to dictate rules, but to facilitate our interaction. In no way I want to discourage you from interacting with me or anyone with a disability, on the contrary, we all want to feel included within the society. So, don't be afraid of “doing the wrong thing”, because none of us were born 100% prepared to deal with all the situations that exist in the world. Therefore, we can perfectly learn together.

 

            This list will probably change as I go through new situations. Therefore, I also accept suggestions, comments and questions.

Afterall, whenever we put our communication skills together and get away from our prejudices, we are always able to understand each other way better.

 

Weber Amaral

 

·        Shiryu is a character of a Japanese cartoon called Saint Seya. He got blind after piercing his own eyes to defeat Medusa (a monster from the Greek mythology). He got his vision back though after reaching the seventh sense (whatever that means) – ps: this is a cartoon for kids, so making sense is not necessarily  required. 😊

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