Losing your eyesight is a scary thing. It is important that you have people you trust around to take care of you and help you make any necessary adjustments as you learn to live in this new way of life. It is also imperative that the people that you choose to help you know how best to help you. Here are a few tips for caretakers of people who have failing, low, or no vision:
Approach, Ask, Assist:
This process is the best way to offer help to anyone, not just visually impaired people. Basically, if you see someone who needs help you want to approach them in an obvious (not sneaky or quiet) manner, greet them, and let them know who you are. Ask them if they would like help, do not just assume that your help will be welcome. If they say yes that they need help, then assist them in the current task and then ask if there is anything else you can do to help them. Be prepared to help, but do not be offended if they refuse your help.
Addressing People with Vision Impairments:
If you are addressing a person with vision impairments, make sure that you use their names so that they know that you are talking to them. Try your best to stay in their line of vision if at all possible. If you have just entered the room that they are in, make sure to greet them or announce your presence to avoid startling them. If you are done with a conversation, announce that you are walking away or moving on to another task (ex: Ok, I am going into the kitchen to put the dishes away now, let me know if you need me). Make sure to speak to the person directly, do not aim questions they can answer toward their aide or companion. Use words like “look” and “see” like normal to avoid awkwardness between the two of you.
How to Guide a Person with a Vision Impairment:
If the person needs help getting around and they ask to take your arm (if they do not ask, offer your arm to them) walk slowly enough that they can easily keep up. Keep an eye out for obstacles, furniture, curbs, etc. that they may not see and give them verbal warning and description of whatever is in the path and how to avoid it or how to handle it. Direct people with vision impairments using their right or left, not yours. In dangerous situations, like if the person is about to walk into something, warn them by saying “STOP” not “look out/watch out”. When describing the area in which the person is walking, make sure to look for obstacles and dangers above the person, do not just protect them from tripping but also from bumping their head.
Keeping People with a Vision Impairment Safe:
When you are in the home of a person with a vision impairment, do not move furniture or objects around without letting them know you are doing so. They need to know where everything is so that they do not trip and fall or lose track of important items. For example, if you move their purse, tell them where it is so that next time they need it they are not frantically searching for it. Make sure that all lighting is working correctly in the home for them to see the best that they can. Do not leave doors ajar, either open them all the way or close them all the way. This can help avoid accidents like walking into the door and getting hurt. When helping them sit down, if you place their hands on the back of the chair, they should usually be able to seat themselves. Make sure to keep the floor and living space tidy. Do not leave wet spots on tile or wooden floors. Make sure that the person is aware of all potential head bumping obstacles.
Do not fill glasses or cups to the top, this can lead to spills which can be embarrassing for the person. j
If the person holds out their hand for a handshake, shake hands. If you hold out your hand and they do not see it, do not be offended or make them feel awkward about it.
If the person is unable to see everything happening in their environment, describe it to them so they get an idea of what is going on. Use detail in your description to help them visualize what is happening in their mind.
Again, do NOT force assistance upon anyone, ask if they need or want your help and comply accordingly. If they refuse your help and later admit to needing help, do not make them feel bad about it. It is good that they want to do things independently.
Remember that having a disability such as vision impairment does not make a person helpless, needy, or any less valuable.
Be there for the person. Losing your eyesight is one of the most difficult things that can happen. It is an emotional journey that most people are not prepared for. Having to relearn daily tasks is confusing, frustrating, and hard. Be patient, be kind, be gentle, and show that you care.