ABCs of Caring for the Visually Impaired

A: A Dozen Helpful Hints

  • Use contrasting colors, such as black/white, black/yellow, or blue/yellow. Limit the number of colors, as too many can be confusing.
  • When communicating in writing, avoid cursive, and use a dark bold pen or marker–not a pencil.
  • When communicating by e-mail in rich text, set the font size to at least 16 points, and use easy-to-read fonts like Verdana or Arial.
  • Take time to learn about low vision technology and devices. Start by going to MD Support’s Audio/Visual Library.
  • Learn simple ways to help the recipient adapt the home environment for safer and easier living. Many ideas will be found in the “Self-Help Guide to Non-Visual Skills”.
  • Help the recipient see with his or her ears by describing locations, people, and objects.
  • Use the “clock face” method to help the recipient locate food on the plate.
  • Include the recipient in social events, and encourage participation in a support group.
  • When guiding, allow the recipient to maintain contact by grasping your arm. On stairs, remain one step ahead.
  • When guiding to a seat, allow the recipient to touch the chair or bench first, then seat themselves. Some verbal description by you of the style of seating might be helpful.
  • Emphasize the importance of good nutrition and exercise. Several good presentations on these topics are in MD Support’s Audio/Visual Library.
  • Low vision rehabilitation by a trained professional is an important part of the continuum of care for low vision individuals.

B: Stress Triggers

A caregiver may assume that the care recipient is more impaired than is actually the case. If so . . .

  • The caregiver may take over tasks the recipient might otherwise be able to handle.
  • The recipient may become over-dependent on the caregiver.
  • The recipient may feel that his/her autonomy and personal choice is being compromised or removed altogether.
  • The caregiver may feel burdened or taken advantage of.
  • Erosion of the original relationship may occur, adding stress to both parties and possibly having a negative impact on the health and/or safety of one or both persons.

The caregiver may be coping with frailties or limitations of his or her own.

The caregiver may be caught in a “sandwich” situation caring for both a younger child and an aging loved one. If so:

  • It can mean added stress for the caregiver as the recipient struggles to deal with growing personal limitations.
  • It can cause feelings of guilt and frustration for the older recipient, who may feel he or she is adding to the caregiver’s problems.

(Source: “Serving Older Persons with Visual Impairments and Their Caregivers–Suggestions for State Units on Aging”. Greg Link, BA (National Association of State Units on Aging, July 2002)

Care for yourself first, and connect with other caregivers for support. Find links to caregiver support groups at www.medicare.gov/caregivers. Find caregiver respite services at archrespite.org/respitelocator.

C: Rules of Low Vision Etiquette

1. Speak in a natural conversational tone. It is not necessary to speak loudly,
but enunciation is important, as we may not be able to see your lips.

2. Address us by name when possible, especially in crowded places.

3. Address us personally, not through someone else.

4. Greet us when we enter the room so we know you are present.

5. Indicate the end of a conversation when you leave us so we aren’t left talking to the air.

6. Feel free to use words that refer to vision. We also use the words “see”, “look”, “watch”, etc.

7. Do not leave us standing in “free space” when you are acting as a guide.

8. Be calm and clear about what to do if you see us about to encounter a dangerous situation.

9. If you think we need help, ask first. Do not assume your help is wanted.

10. When offering assistance, never take us by the arm. If you offer your arm instead, we can follow slightly behind and anticipate changes.

11. Never take hold of a white cane.

12. Never pet or interfere with a guide dog while it is on duty.

(Source: Carl Augusto, President, American Federation for the Blind in New York, and David McGown, executive director of the Guild for the Blind in Chicago)

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