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How to Interact With a Co-Worker Who Is Blind

Thursday, January 13th, 2011

Person with a briefcase and cane walking

Disability etiquette helps your workforce engage with people who have different abilities and learn and intercept information in unique ways. People who are blind, for example, can’t see eye contact or body language and must be told when a conversation is being directed to them. Here are some ways that you should engage with a co-worker with blindness or a vision impairment.

- Since a person who is blind is reliant on audio or verbal cues, you should always announce when you’re entering a room – and advise a person who is blind when someone else has entered the room. You should also identify and introduce yourself and anyone who may be with you.

- Most people who are sighted follow body language and eye contact to determine the flow of a conversation; a person who is blind cannot do this. During your conversation, address the person by name; otherwise he or she may not realize that you are talking to them. When a conversation is about to end, or you’re about to leave the room, announce this, so that the person who is blind does not continue talking.

- People who are blind or visually impaired can walk and travel independently. If you would like to offer assistance, ask first. If your offer to help is accepted, let him or her take your arm or elbow – don’t grab the person by their arm. (One exception to this is when a person who is blind is unknowingly walking into an immediately dangerous situation.) Walk slightly ahead of him or her, and if you can, avoid escalators and revolving doors. When walking up or down steps or ramps, let the person know ahead of time, and be specific in giving directions.

- Only one in five people who are blind can read Braille. When offering work materials in alternate formats, ask what format would best suit them, and don’t assume it’s a Braille version. Alternative formats include audio and large print. A person who is blind and uses a screen reader might prefer an email or electronic document that can be “read aloud” to them.

- Never pet, distract or talk to a working guide dog; guide dogs are not pets. Guide dogs are eyes for a person who is blind and when they are harnessed, they are trained to work and should not be distracted. When walking with a person accompanied by a guide dog or service animal, place yourself next to the person, not the dog. Don’t address the dog as part of the conversation, either, such as by saying, “Would you and your dog like to get coffee?”

Follow these simple steps and you’ll feel more confident when engaging your co-workers who are blind – and he or she will appreciate that you took the time to learn some basic disability etiquette!