Language and Communication

Assume nothing.

The most important thing to remember in any conversation with someone with a disability is to assume nothing. If you have a question about what to do, what language or terminology to use, or what assistance, if any, might be needed, the person with the disability should be your first and best resource. Do not be afraid to ask.

Be patient.

Be patient not only with the person with the disability, but with yourself. Frustration may come from both sides of the conversation and needs to be understood and dealt with by both parties.

Focus on the overall goal, not the disability.

The most important thing to focus on during a conversation with a person with a disability is the overall goal. It is simply communication between two individuals. Ultimately, it is what is communicated, not how it is communicated, that will be important.

Avoid using words, phrases, and a tone of voice that are disrespectful. 

The words “blind” and “visually impaired” are adjectives, not nouns. It is not: “The blind have many resources.” It is: “Persons who are blind have many resources.”

Never use a tone of voice or terminology that is condescending, for instance, “Oh, you poor dear. You are so very brave.” Also, refrain from using qualifying statements, such as, “She’s pretty, for a girl who is blind.”

Don’t worry about phrases like, “See you tomorrow,” “Watch out!” and “Look at this.” These phrases are part of the vernacular. People who are blind or visually impaired use these phrases too.

Identify yourself.

Upon entering a room, say, “This is Susan. I am just looking in the cabinets for brochures.” Don’t just leave a room without saying something. If the person who is blind doesn’t hear you leave, they may begin talking only to discover you’re not there.

Talk directly to the person who is blind or visually impaired.

Do not say, “What will she have?” or “Would your friend like a menu?” Instead, speak directly at the person who is blind or visually impaired. Make eye contact and expect that the person will turn in your direction when they reply. Persons who are blind use verbal cues when conversing with another person.

Provide verbal cues.

Be verbally descriptive when giving directions. Pointing and gesturing have little meaning to people who are blind or visually impaired. Saying, “It is the fourth door on your right after you exit the elevator,” would be more helpful. Avoid using references that are visually-oriented, like, “Over there, near the green plant.” Also, remember to provide directions that are oriented to their perspective, not yours.

Support facial expressions or visual cues with verbal cues. For example, say “yes” when nodding your head, “I dunno” while shrugging your shoulders, and “bye” when waving.