How Do I Speak to a Blind Person? Here’s 13 Ways to Communicate

An older white man smiling. He is talking to an older smiling Black man. One has on a blue shirt while the other has on a green shirt.

As human beings we are more comfortable  interacting and talking to people who are like us. Those  with the same kind of interests or backgrounds. Top on the list of similarities tend to be our religion, employment, marital status, education  and income. This can also include race and gender. So, when  the opportunity to converse with someone  who is different it can be uncomfortable, awkward and challenging.

Even more so if the person is disabled. Although disability  is common, we still struggle to interact because of fear, apathy or lack of knowledge. One question I hear all the time is, “What do I say to a blind or visually impaired person?” So, I decided to address it in this post. Nov. 1-7 is World Communication Week which focuses on bridging the gap in all the ways we talk and interact with each other. Good communication is critical for our existence and here’s 13 ways  to do it effectively with a blind person.

1. Start with saying hello.!

Several blank colorful name tags

Just like in any other interaction, saying hi is the way to get  the conversation going. Or even just to acknowledge your presence. Some people are afraid to speak to me and so say nothing. This is not the best move because I might not even know you are there.

This has happened to me more times than I can count. For instance, I am trying to find a seat  but it is already taken. The person seating says nothing to me and then we have this weird  interaction  when I step or bump into them. Just saying hello would have helped me tremendously, letting me know  someone is there and avoiding  the strange interaction.

2.  Identify yourself   after saying hello

This tip  goes along with the first one. Please state your name  when saying hello and introducing yourself. Don’t assume I know who you are and just start talking. People think blind folks have exceptional hearing. That we can detect specific voices. This is not true. Just light sighted people forget a name I can forget your voice. Now with that being said, my ability to recognize you will improve  as we interact more.

3. Speak in a normal clear voice

People will unconsciously use a sweet or childlike tone of voice when first meeting me. This can communicate  disrespect without  even knowing it. We are all adults here, so no need to talk to me this way. Some will increase their volume. This is unnecessary because my disability is visual not deafness or  hard of hearing. My  last example is talking too slow, believing  I have processing challenges. The best way to handle  all of this is to not make assumptions. Talk normally  and we will get along just fine.

4. Don’t speak for me

This is the one that really gets my goat! I am an independent and assertive woman. I don’t need you to speak for me. I am fully capable of talking for myself. This kind of behavior communicates you don’t think much of me and/or because of my visual disability I don’t  know how to take care of business.

5. Be inclusive in your conversation

We live in a visual world. Yet, some sighted people forget or  are not aware of how much visual cues play into the way we communicate. What do I mean here? Facial expressions, body language and hand gestures are all visual cues I miss resulting in misreading  what is happening. It is helpful to clue me in and verbally communicate what is occurring. Don’t brush me off and say it is nothing  or you wouldn’t get it. Include me in the conversation  and interaction.

6. Ask permission before assisting

I know many sighted people are kind  and their heart is in the right place. But, not talking to me first  when helping can be a big no-no. It can be invasive and alarming. If you want to help just ask first. Allow me to say yes or no. Also, I can better direct the assistance by sharing exactly what is needed.

7. Accept that I don’t need your help

If I nicely say no to your assistance accept it. Please don’t be overbearing  and insist. This communicates you don’t respect my wishes  and think I am incompetent . Plus, accept the fact I might not share details. Many times, I have  interacted with people who want a full explanation of why I won’t take their help. This is very frustrating. I am my own person  and don’t automatically have to take help when offered.

Please trust I know my own abilities and limitations. I know when something is too difficult  and how to ask for help.

8. Don’t apologize  for saying sighted words or phrases

No need to cringe when saying, “see you later.” I know it is just a familiar phrase we say  when departing. I won’t take it personally. I have accepted my blindness and fully understand I live in a visual world. So, no need to tip-toe around me or sensor your speech.

9.  Don’t grab my arm

This one makes my blood boil! I am particular about folks in my personal space without  any verbal communication. Think about a pregnant woman. Some people  touch her belly without her permission. The  belief is  she will be okay because she is carrying a baby. But her body is her own.

When first meeting, grabbing my arm is especially intrusive. The thought is I need navigation help. Perhaps you see me about to run into something. This might be true but the best way is to talk to me. Just say something  and allow me to correct myself.

10. Blindness is physical not a personality trait

It can be easy for all of us to place people in boxes  and assign labels . But bear in mine  we are all unique individuals. My vision loss is solely a physical thing. The essence of who I am would be the same regardless of blindness.

A messy desktop

Let me give you a good example. I have always been an organize  person. This stemmed from my childhood. Yet, when I went blind as an adult I didn’t stop being organized. As a matter of fact, it came in very handy  because of my vision loss. My ability to keep things together complemented my disability because I could not afford to hunt around for misplaced or lost items.

11. Avoid asking personal questions about disability

Many sighted people are curious  and want to know  the story behind my blindness. But please refrain until we know each other better. On first meeting it is inappropriate to ask a bunch of questions  about a person’s disability. Let them control that part of the conversation and reveal info  on their terms.

12. Give specific directions

At the top is a red arrow pointing to the right. At the bottom is a blue arrow pointing to the left.

People love telling me it is over there when giving directions. But the funny thing is I have no idea what is “over there.”  Usually, I have to follow up with specific questions to get a better idea. This can be avoided  by giving details. For example, don’t say, “The bathroom is down the hall.” Instead say, “The bathroom is two doors down the hall next to the elevator.”

13. Give a clear word picture when describing something

You have heard of the phrase a picture is worth a thousand words. Well, blind folks need those thousand words because we can’t see that picture. So, when we are  conversing  include color, size, shape  or landmarks.

Follow the Golden Rule

Feeling overwhelmed  with my suggestions? Afraid you won’t get it right? Well, think of it this way. All of these ways to interact and talk to a blind person are summed up into one tip.

Follow the golden rule by treating others the way you want to be treated. Pause and think about how  you would  react if the shoe was on the other foot. Following this simple advice  will help you interact and communicate with a blind person.

5 thoughts on “How Do I Speak to a Blind Person? Here’s 13 Ways to Communicate

    1. Thanks, Joan. I was struggling at first with this post and so took me longer than I would have liked. I had to think and even remember some of the tips I shared because I don’t deal with all of this everyday. Some posts are just that way. I appreciate the kind words.

      Liked by 1 person

  1. You and Tanish have taught me so much about blindness and the challenges I tend to overlook. Am glad to have met your acquaintance. It’s a privilege to share someone else’s perspective, and every time I read one of your posts, I become much less ignorant.

    This post was particularly insightful because I actually have been thinking about the usage of visual phrases like ‘see you later’, or having to identify myself in real life conversations. Thanks for this and keep em coming!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Stuart, what a thoughtful and kind comment. I am so glad I could help in this way. Actually your desire to understand and learn more is one of the primary reasons I created this blog in the first place.

      Liked by 1 person

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