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Guiding and Communicating With a Visually Impaired Person

Guiding a visually impaired person may feel like a daunting prospect for those who have little experience. This section of the toolkit will help you to get started by taking you through some practical demonstrations and top tips and will also explore how best to communicate with a visually impaired person

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Most blind and partially sighted people will have some vision. A blind or partially sighted person may use a cane or guide dog to move around. 

When moving around your facility, make sure to move out of the way of a visually impaired person, as they may not see you or a safe route around you. You should not distract a working guide dog.

Some blind or partially sighted people may also like extra help from a sighted guide. This is where you can support a person by being their sighted guide. This involves helping someone find their way around or to find people they want to speak to.

Tip

Asking a visually impaired person if they need to be guided and how they prefer to be guided will take the guessing work away and ensure that they feel safe and secure when being guided by you.

Play the below video from Traveleyes to learn how to guide and for some top tips that will help you along your way.

Guiding Summary

  • Remain calm, clear and natural when describing the environments, noting any changes such as floor textures, door and stairs.
  • Stand alongside the person you are guiding and allow them to hold onto your elbow. The person you are guiding will remain slightly behind you following.
  • If the person you are guiding is using a guide dog, stand at the opposite side to the guide dog and ask how the person would like to proceed. Some people may ask for you to walk ahead so that the guide dog can follow.
  • If approaching narrow or busy spaces, let the person you are guiding know and that you will need to walk in single file.
  • When approaching stairs, let the person you are guiding know. You may need to swap sides with the person to allow them to use the handrail. Take it slow and let them know when you are reaching the final step.
  • If approaching a doorway, let the person you are guiding know. Sometimes its easier for them to go through first and re-join you. It is always better to ask about the best approach for them. If the doors are manual, you may need to open the door for them. Automatic doors rarely cause problems.
  • When using a lift, let the person you are guiding know if you are going up or down and which way the exit door is.
  • If you are guiding the person to a chair, describe the type of chair and help them to feel where the chair and back rest is, supporting them into the chair.
  • Before leaving the blind or partially sighted person, check that they know where they are and tell them that you are going.

If you feel apprehensive about guiding, don't worry. The more you guide, the more your confidence will increase, and your technique will improve. The main thing is to communicate with the person you are guiding, as they can help you to help them.

Have a go!

Encourage facility staff/volunteers to practice by guiding each other, with the person being guided using a blindfold.

Communicating Effectively

The following techniques can help you communicate effectively with a person who has a visual impairment:

  • Introduce yourself by saying your name, and theirs if you know it. 
  • Always ask someone if there is anything that you can help them with. Never assume, let them tell you what they need.
  • Speak normally. There is no need to avoid words like "see", "look" and "watch". Blind and partially sighted people appreciate being treated the same as everyone else.
  • Try to avoid non-verbal communication. For example, nodding would be meaningless to someone who can't see you are nodding.
  • Be as specific as possible with directions and descriptions. It is often helpful to use a clock face (e.g. "the treadmill at your 10 o'clock"). Describe colours, textures and objects in the environment around them to build as full a picture as possible.
  • When you are leaving the conversation, let the person know.

General Communication and Marketing

Making communication and marketing material more accessible will widen the potential audience and increase footfall in your facility.

Use the following practical ideas to improve your communication and marketing materials.

  • Variety: Consider multiple ways of communicating such as website, email, newsletters, social media posts, videos and other printed materials, such as posters, flyers and banners.
  • Text: Being able to offer communication in larger text can help partially sighted people to make use of their remaining vision. It is generally recognised that you should use at least font size 14 for easy read communications. Arial font is recommended, unless advised otherwise.
  • Images: Adding image descriptions or alt text to a digital image can allow a visually impaired person to use their screen reader to identify the image. An image description or alt text may include links, along with descriptive text, and it is recommended to be 125 characters or less.
  • Videos: Videos are a great way to deliver impactful messages in an engaging way. Consider offering an accessible alternative with audio description that will describe visual elements as part of the video. Transcripts, an accompanying word-based document, can also be used in place of audio descriptions to allow a screen reader to be used.
  • Websites: It is important to ensure that your website is accessible as possible. The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (known as WCAG 2.1) are an internationally recognised set of recommendations for improving web accessibility. More information is provided in the Communication and Marketing Guide
  • A key requirement of the Equality Act is to provide information in accessible formats. Technology is constantly evolving, as is the accessible software available to support your organisation to be more inclusive.

Using imagery that represents blind and partially sighted people, in communication and marketing materials such as videos, social media, case studies and posters, demonstrates that you are inclusive. It also helps to normalise the idea of their attendance in the minds of staff and other facility users.

Useful Resources

Top Tips for Guiding

Deep Dive into our "Top Tips for Guiding a Blind or Partially Sighted Person"

Access The Resource

Communication and Marketing

Deep Dive into our "Communication and Marketing Guidance for the Visually Impaired"

Access The Resource

Back to the Toolkit

Navigate back to the main toolkit page for Inclusive Facilities: Supporting People With a Visual Impairment

BACK TO THE TOOLKIT

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