When vision loss happens to a relative, all family members will have to relearn how to communicate with one another. Few people who have not been in this situation realize how much our eyes have to do with how we communicate, but there are steps you can take to compensate.
Keep the Lines of Communication Open
- Holding back only adds tension. Say what's on your mind as sensitively as you can.
- Don't be afraid to have the hard conversations. Talking about difficult issues means treading delicate emotional ground, but avoiding them is far worse. Take the time to think about what you want to say and how before starting the conversation.
- Break the ice … but stay on topic. Don't overwhelm your loved one with too many issues at once.
- Confront tough topics directly but be sensitive, too. Especially now, how you say something is just as important as what you are saying. Always strike a supportive tone.
- Give your relative your complete attention when in conversation.
- Postpone difficult discussions when tensions are running high or when you may be otherwise distracted.
- Ask your relative for help when you need it.
"Hello, My Name is …": Making Casual Conversation
While most people with vision loss have some vision, you shouldn't assume that they can make out where you are and or even who you are when both of you are in the same room. Here are some guidelines for making conversation easier.
- Identify yourself by name when you start talking. For example, "Hi, Jane, it's Sophia."
- Speak clearly and directly, and look at the person when addressing him or her.
- Use natural conversational tone and speed. Unless the person has a hearing impairment there's no need to raise your voice.
- Address the person by name, so he or she will immediately know that you're talking to him or her rather than someone who happens to be nearby. (If you don't know the person's name, give a light touch on the arm to let the person know you are addressing him or her.)
- Be an active listener. Give the person opportunities to talk. Respond with questions and comments to keep the conversation going. Remember, a person experiencing vision loss can't necessarily see the look of interest on your face, so take care to vocalize your interest ("Yes … I see … I understand," etc.).
- Always answer questions and be specific or descriptive in your responses.
- When you enter a room, announce your presence so the person with vision loss knows you're there. Similarly, if the person enters a room you're already in, let him or her know you're there.
- Say when you're leaving a room and where you're going, if appropriate. For example, say, "I'm going to the kitchen to get a drink of water."
- Indicate the end of a conversation so that the person you've been talking to is spared the embarrassment of talking to someone who is no longer there. You could say, "Nice talking to you, Bob. I'll see you later."
For More Information:
- Earle Baum Center Serving the Blind and Visually Impaired. Guidelines for medical professionals on interacting with a person with vision loss.
- U.S. Department of Labor. Communicating With and About People with Disabilities. Suggestions for employers on how to relate to and communicate with and about people with disabilities, including words, actions, etc.
- Author Ed Henkler Helps Readers Support Parents with Age-related Vision Loss
Ed Henkler, son of a mother with age-related macular degeneration, writes an e-book for helping families with useful tips and resources on dealing with vision loss. Read about his journey and his book.