Educating Others about Vision Impairment: What Do You Do When You Meet Someone Who Can’t See?

July marks the 26th Anniversary of the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which has advanced the rights of people with vision impairment as well as those with other challenges. With the passage of the ADA, the United States Congress found that “physical or mental disabilities in no way diminish a person’s right to fully participate in all aspects of society.” The rights of people with vision impairment are included in the enforcement of this landmark legislation.

As we commemorate this milestone during Disability Pride Month in New York City and in other areas of the nation, Lighthouse Guild offers information and tips that can be helpful to people who have a vision impairment and which they can share with family members and friends. These pointers have been developed by vision rehabilitation professionals. Through vision rehabilitation, individuals with vision loss regain function and maximize their usable vision to develop skills and strategies to remain safe, independent and active at any stage of life. Vision rehabilitation can also help them adjust emotionally to the impact of vision loss.

For services in the greater New York area, contact Lighthouse Guild’s vision rehabilitation center or call 800-284-4422

Useful suggestions on vision rehabilitation:


  • People with vision problems usually have normal hearing, so it’s not necessary to speak in a louder voice. Feel free to carry on conversations as you normally would, but introduce yourself when initiating conversation, because recognizing voices can be difficult for some people. Be sure to let a person with impaired vision know when you leave the room.
  • Rather than using gestures and hand signals to convey instructions, directions or size, verbally describe information.
  • Be clear when communicating. Many people use “right” when they mean “yes” or “correct”.   Words such as “here,” “there” or “this” are vague and don’t provide enough information.
  • It’s okay to use words like “look” or “see,” as they are part of normal conversation. People with impaired vision use these words themselves.
  • In a new group setting, address individuals who are blind by name if you would like a reply.
  • People with impaired vision can make their own decisions. Be mindful of respecting their decisions, rather than interjecting that you know “what is best”. Treat people with impaired vision as you would like to be treated.

On the Street

  • When someone appears to need assistance or to be in danger, ask if you can help. Avoid grabbing a person’s arm – it’s startling, dangerous and discourteous. Instead, ask if s/he would like to hold your arm at the elbow.
  • Walk a half-step ahead so that your bodily movements indicate when to change directions, stop or start, and when to step up or down at a curb.
  • Begin walking at a normal pace.  While walking, you can discuss the physical layout of the area, pointing out landmarks (e.g. doorways, sloped surfaces).
  • Provide information verbally about the environment. Give advance notice about changes in the surface, such as curbs or cracks in the sidewalk. Also note when steps are approaching, indicating how many and their direction (up or down).
  • When giving directions, be specific. For example, “We’re on the northwest corner of 65th Street and Central Park West.” Or, “We’re facing the entrance of the store.”
  • Half-open doors are a hazard. Keep doors either closed or wide open.
  • Place contrasting tape on the insides or backs of cabinet doors to help identify one that’s open.
  • Try to keep furniture and other household objects in the same place. If changes are made, be sure to discuss this with or notify a person who is visually impaired to prevent mishaps.
  • Outdoors, for people who are visually impaired and use long white canes, constant contact with the ground facilitates safer travel, warning of cracks, holes and other obstacles that often become obscured. If your companion does not have a white cane for navigation, you can verbally describe obstacles.
  • Guide dog owners depend on their dog’s complete attention for safety. Never pet or distract a guide dog. They’re working animals.
  • Keep in mind that vision can change with the weather. For example, some people can see better on a cloudy day than on a sunny day. Your companion can advise you about his or her individual situation.

Dining Out

  • Ask if you can help guide your dining companion to the table. Once there, place his/her hand on the back of the chair, specifying whether the chair has arms.
  • If asked, read the menu and describe the locations of food on the plate using an imaginary clock as your reference. For example, “The vegetables are at three o’clock.”
  • Menus in adaptive formats are becoming more readily available. Ask for a menu in large print or Braille.

Vision Rehabilitation

  • People with vision problems can remain, or become, independent. Vision rehabilitation services equip people with impaired vision with the skills and confidence they need to gain, or retain, control of their lives.
  • Vision rehabilitation professionals develop an individualized program to help people who are visually impaired overcome their challenges and continue to enjoy daily activities.
  • The new skills that are acquired when adjusting to life with vision loss take a great deal of practice. Be supportive and patient.
  • The use of special assistive equipment and prescribed optical devices that are often provided as part of vision rehabilitation can significantly increase independence.

Lighthouse Guild offers a broad range of vision rehabilitation services that help people of all ages gain the skills and confidence to meet the day-to-day challenges of life. While vision rehabilitation cannot restore lost sight, it can help to maximize any existing sight or, for individuals with no vision, it can provide the techniques to maintain an independent lifestyle.

By providing a full spectrum of integrated vision and healthcare services, Lighthouse Guild helps people who are blind or visually impaired, including those with multiple disabilities or chronic medical conditions, lead productive, dignified and fulfilling lives.

For services in the greater New York area, contact Lighthouse Guild’s vision rehabilitation center or call 800-284-4422