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5 Things to Know When You Approach Someone With a Visual Impairment

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More often than not, I get stares and comments as a person with a severe visual impairment. Whether my face is planted a few inches from a computer monitor or I’m nose to nose on a smart phone, my behavior tends to send wandering eyes into a tizzy.

I often find stares to have a predatory-like feeling. It’s as if I’m lunch for someone’s alligator, and the alligator in question is known as curiosity.

Mandy Ree The Mighty
Mandy standing next to a statue of an alligator

Curiosity can be a good thing if handled right. If I’m offered help or someone says “take your time,” I will gladly be more open about my needs.

But when it comes to question upon question or uneducated comments regarding my intelligence and my ability to read, that’s when I feel trapped in the jaws of the gator and I tend to shut down.

I’ve been trying to be more open to explaining my disability to others, but too often, it becomes a hassle, a round of 20 questions that never ends past question 20.

I only have so much patience to deal with such situations. If I’m not asked about my disability in the right way, I simply don’t answer due to too much heartache. So here are some tips for approaching me or anyone with a visual impairment:

1. Don’t state the obvious.

Questions like, “Are you blind?” irk me to no end. No, my nose is pressed against my phone to help me get good reception!

2. Don’t question my intelligence.

My eyes might not work correctly, and it affects my ability to read small print or cursive writing. But it doesn’t mean I don’t understand the context of what is written; I just can’t see it. Plain and simple. Make the font size bigger, print instead of write and offer to help read to me, which brings up my next point:

3. Help me!

Some things are just not in my control when it comes to printed documents that are handed to me. If I’m struggling and ask for help, please kindly offer it. Don’t belittle me because I’m having a hard time. I’m sorry I’m such an inconvenience. But sometimes, things like this are an inconvenience to me. Be helpful and patient.

4. Go easy on the questions.

I’m the kind of person who doesn’t appreciate having to answer so many questions about what I deal with. I’m a “Cliff Notes” kind of girl and prefer to answer only the basic facts about my condition. Unless I know you on a personal level, I’d rather keep the conversation people-focused and leave the disability as a second thought. Now, in this case, your results may vary depending on the personality of the person. I’m more of an introvert and need to get to know you better before I answer any questions in detail. Now if you’re a child, I might tweak that train of thought a bit. Children are curious and that’s a good learning opportunity for them.

Mandy taking a selfie in front of balloons

5. Introduce yourself to me, even if I already know you.

Face recognition is not one of my many traits. If you are staring at me because you might know me or get mad because I don’t acknowledge you, don’t take it personally. I just can’t see who you are. Even when you wear a name tag, it still doesn’t help. Treat me like a new friend every time until I can pinpoint who you are by voice or repetition.

Again, and I can’t stress this enough, a visual impairment affects my eyes only, not my intelligence.

And although I may not see you doing it, I know you’re there. It’s like a sixth sense. Come up and say hi. Treat me like a person first. Ask questions if needed but don’t make it a big deal. Focus on what I can do and worry about the rest later.

Follow this journey on Legally Blind Bagged.

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Originally published: August 20, 2015
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