Barriers to Communication for the Visually Impaired

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Communication with sighted persons frequently presents real challenges; for the visually impaired, communication becomes significantly more difficult. Speakers cannot rely on nonverbal cues or body language when speaking with a visually-impaired person. However, effective communication can still take place between sighted and visually-impaired persons when both are aware of barriers to communication.

Ambiguity

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Sighted persons take visual cues and the physical world for granted. When speaking to a visually-impaired person, be specific. Say "The chair is on your right", not "The chair is right here." Identify yourself before speaking ("Hi John, it's Karen"); don't assume your voice is recognised or it could lead to confusion. Similarly, in a group setting you should introduce every person so that the visually-impaired person is aware of how many people are in the room.

Discomfort

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Visually-impaired persons are not monsters and more often than not are accustomed to a sightless existence. Try to relax and behave normally; if you act as though something is strange or wrong, you risk making the other person uncomfortable and possibly self-conscious. Speak in normal tones and don't try to omit certain words, such as "watch" and "look". Remember to smile--it shows in your voice. Last, never communicate through a third party. Even if you are shy or uncertain about what to do, this comes across as rude. Always speak directly to the person.

Pity

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Visually-impaired and other disabled persons do not want pity. Pitying someone is a good way to shut down communication because it gives the impression that you feel superior to the disabled person (whether that is true or not.) Instead, treat a visually-impaired person like you would anyone else: don't rush to get the door or call out every possible obstacle in his path, and never offer help unless it's very obvious that help is needed in order to complete a task. Never assume that a visually-impaired person's independence is not fully intact.

Lack of Verbal Cues

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Visually-impaired persons cannot see expressions or gestures, so sighted persons must always use verbal cues to show interest and attention. Try to keep the conversation going by asking questions and using fillers (such as "Uh huh," "OK," or "I see.") Always spare a visually-impaired person the discomfort and awkwardness of an extended silence by giving her your full attention and saying what you are doing (for example, going to the kitchen to get something to drink).

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