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19. EQ tips: How to communicate with blind people.

Written by Michael Kelly, Computer Analyst, UK.

Diversity in the workplace is normal. Most workplaces include people from different cultural backgrounds, personality types, physical capabilities, ages and sexual orientations.

Blind people and the visually impaired are all part of this rich, wonderful, diverse mix.

What emotions arise in you when you see someone who is blind? What emotions arise in you when you see a person's guide dog? How does this influence your behaviour towards them? How well do you communicate with blind people?

Your reactions to blind people are important, and your reactions are important to blind people.

How you manage your emotions and reactions can show high, average or low levels of emotional intelligence.

This article is written by Michael Kelly. Michael has been blind for over 25 years, and has a guide dog.

Here are his tips on how to manage your reactions and communicate with someone such as Michael.

EQ with blind people tip 1: Blind people can hear what you say.

Blind people can usually hear what you say about them. Don't assume that blind people are deaf as well as blind. They're usually not deaf and they can hear what you say! This means please do not talk about us in our midst.

EQ with blind people tip 2: Stop danger.

Stop blind people from doing something dangerous.

Don't be afraid of invading blind people's space especially when danger is at hand. You might just see me doing something potentially dangerous, please tell me or stop me. Don't just watch me do it for fear of interferring.

EQ with blind people tip 3: Introduce yourself.

Do introduce yourself to someone who is blind. Don't just say "Hi", tell us who you are, e.g. say "Hi, I'm Rachel from Barkers and Co," or "Hi, I'm Bob and I've just been travelling in the same train as you". Tell us who you are.

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EQ with blind people tip 4: Tell us you're present & what you've done.

If you open a door for a blind person do tell him/her. And tell the blind person that you're there.

If you don't tell us we can come upon a door we expect to find closed and discover it has disappeared because you've opened it.

And tell us you've squashed yourself against a wall to let us pass, otherwise we may walk into you, or not know to say "Thank you" to you. Please don't try to make yourself invisible. We can't see you!

EQ with blind people tip 5: Tell us where food items are.

Tell us where food items are on a plate.

If you're serving us food and there are separate items of food, tell us where the food items are relative to a clock's face, e.g. the steak is at 3 o'clock, the broccoli is at 11 o'clock.

EQ with blind people tip 6: Tell us you want to shake hands.

If you put your hand out to shake hands with blind people and if the blind people don't have their hands out, tell them what you'd like to do, "May I shake your hand?" We can't see that you've put your hand out, so tell us.

EQ with blind people tip 7: Say hello to us.

If a blind person has a guide dog don't ignore the blind person in favour of the dog. When you say "Hello" to the dog, say "Hello" to the blind person. You'll be amazed how many people speak to my dog but totally ignore me!

EQ with blind people tip 8: Describe your slides.

If you're giving a briefing or a talk and using slides or graphs make sure you talk through them, so that I know what is happening. Describe them orally.

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EQ with blind people tip 9: Describe your gestures.

If you're gesticulating as a way of describing something include a verbal description of what you are describing. Thus, if your hands are showing how big something is, say how big it is, give us the measurements orally.

EQ with blind people tip 10: Tell us if you're leaving.

If you're talking to people and there's a blind person present and you are going to exit, say you are going. Do not just disappear. The blind person would like to know you've gone. Save us the embarrassment of still talking to someone who has already left.

EQ with blind people tip 11: Know we have prejudices too.

Don't assume blind people don't have the same prejudices as every-one else. We have just as many prejudices as sighted people.

EQ with blind people tip 12: We don't all read braille.

Don't assume all blind people are expert braillists. They're often not. I don't read Braille. It's a whole new language to learn. Not all blind people read Braille.

Michael Kelly is one of the closest and long-standing friends of the Institute's Director. He has been blind since his mid-twenties.

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