This is taken from a piece written for The Friend by Hilary Davies, and is reproduced with permission
These tips come from my experience of sight loss over 15 years and from a recent period as a wheel chair user, following an accident. Also from sharing with other disabled people in the Disability Movement.
All disabled people are, of course, unique human beings so their views may differ from mine. But like most people, those with disabilities want to be part of social sharing and value help when they need it.
1. Ask a person who you know is disabled if you can help them in any way.
Be happy to accept it if they do not need your assistance. (Battling with a Big Issue seller who wants to march you across a road you do not wish to cross, is not fun!)
2. Always address disabled people directly about matters which concern them.
Avoid the “does she/he take sugar” pitfall.
3. When approaching people whose lack of sight may prevent them recognising you, use their name and say who you are. Also say your name when speaking in a group.
If you do not tell them when you are moving away, they may continue talking to thin air.
4. When accompanying or guiding a person with little or no sight, tell them when you are approaching steps/kerbs.
If you do not say if these go up or down, it can be dangerous for both of you.
5. Try to ensure you face a hearing impaired person and have good light on your face to assist with lip reading.
Do not shout at the person but pay careful attention to what helps them to hear what you are saying.
6. If offering to help a wheel chair user and /or their “driver”, do not move the chair without first consulting them. Disorientation kicks in fast and can feel like sea-sickness for those who do not see well.
In order to look after your back, ask for advice about how best to move the chair.
7. Sit down alongside when talking to a person in a wheelchair.
Being towered over is not conducive to relaxed communication.
8. Be very precise when giving directions to visually impaired people.
Waving a hand and pointing does not help. Nor does saying “over here” or “over there”.
9. Do you know how to ensure that loops and other hearing supports are working? Let the hearing impaired person know these are available.
Above all, remember that such aids are only as good as the ability of people to operate them.
10. Disabled people are often very good at problem solving – their daily lives rely on this skill.
Do not think “they have enough to deal with so we will not bother them”. Invite their contributions to finding solutions to problems.