How businesses and individuals can support community members with low vision
“The texture of my world has gone away”, says Dorianne Pollack describing her experience as a blind person living in a virtual world behind a flat screen and keyboard. While COVID-19 has disconnected most people from their “normal” routine, Pollack says the blind and visually impaired feel this disconnection even more. “I don’t get the sensation of living in the world. I don’t get that feeling of belonging”, she says.
Pollack is a Disability Resources Specialist at Northern Arizona University. About 17 years ago, her vision began to decline prompting cane training. Now, she relies on a guide dog, Dime, to navigate her daily life. Pollack and Dime are well-known in the Disability Resources department at NAU. The pair misses greetings from colleagues calling out their names and impromptu coffee dates with lesser-known acquaintances. Previously, these were frequent but, unfortunately, Pollack says video meetings can’t replace these simple interactions.
More challenges surface when Pollack and Dime venture outside of their home for essentials. Signage, floor distance markers, hand sanitizer, taped off chair and other safety measures are inaccessible for those with low vision. “We don’t see any of that. It’s all dependent on sight”, says Pollack. Fortunately, there’s action individuals and business can take to support the blind or visually impaired members of their community.
For individuals, recognize when a blind person enters a room and greet them with your name for reference. Formerly familiar settings have changed due to distancing measures. So, when assisting a blind person, Individuals can describe their surrounding environment using directional language like left and right.
For businesses, use high contrast colors, simple fonts and large text on signage for people with low vision. Businesses can also make floor markers tactile or textured by placing string underneath tape or stickers. This allows a blind person to feel where they should safely stand away from others.
Most important, be kind and ask “if” assistance is needed before assuming a blind person needs help. Pollack says there should be a symbiotic relationship between community members and visually impaired individuals. Community members should recognize when a blind or visually impaired person needs assistance. But, it’s also important for the blind to advocate for themselves. Pollack says, “We have a responsibility not just to ourselves but to our community.”