Four Things You Need to Know When Communicating with Someone Living with Low Vision
There are few things more annoying than the people who raise their voices 10 decibels when you say you have low vision, right?
Except of course, those who talk about you to your companion as if you’re not even there.
In the vast majority of cases the speaker isn’t trying to be rude or disrespectful. In fact, their behaviour highlights a common struggle for people everywhere—communication is harder than we think.
We’ve all experienced a text or email sent with a joking tone in mind that doesn’t come across that way. Starbucks portrayed this in a recent series of television ads worth checking out. Life is full of misunderstandings and miscommunications. Add in vision challenges – that can make it hard to read visual cues and any interaction!
Fortunately there are things people without vision loss can learn to be a better friend or loved one to someone living with low vision.
When joining a conversation, always identify yourself by name. This lets the visually-impaired individual know who is present and helps them from struggling to recognise voices. And be sure to say when you’re leaving the conversation rather than just walking away.
Be yourself. This may seem obvious but it includes speaking normally (not extra loud, there’s nothing wrong with the person’s hearing) and using body language. Even if they can’t see your movements, the motions can influence your tone of voice and offer more information to the listener.
Speak freely. Don’t feel awkward about “sight” words like “see” or “look” or activities like “watching a movie”. These are all natural parts of language. Ditto for talking about colours, shapes and patterns. Do, however, try to be as precise as possible when it comes to giving directions. For example, saying the refrigerator is to the left of the stove is better than the refrigerator is over there.
Don’t forget your manners. If you have a question or comment for the person living with low vision, speak to them directly. And if you see them struggling, always ask first if they want help rather than jumping right in.
These tips can make for smoother interactions, but only if people know about them. That’s where the “communication-is-a-two-way-street” thing comes into play. People without vision loss may be able to see but they can’t read minds so speak up and tell them what you need. You won’t be the only one relieved at avoiding awkward conversation.