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AFBAmerican Foundation®
for the Blind

Expanding possibilities for people with vision loss

Tact and Courtesy

If you have any uncertainty about what is and is not courteous, tactful behavior toward a friend, relative, or complete stranger who is blind or visually impaired, there are some basic guidelines listed below. And keep in mind that, in the case of someone you’re close to, it’s entirely possible to continue having a mutually rewarding, supportive relationship; to have relaxed, spontaneous discussions; and to enjoy most, if not all, of the activities you shared in the past.

  • Feel free to use words that refer to vision during the course of a conversation. Vision-oriented words such as look, see, and watching TV are a part of everyday verbal communication. The words blind and visually impaired are also acceptable in conversation.

  • Be precise and thorough when you describe people, places, or things to someone who is totally blind. Don't leave out things or change a description because you think it is unimportant or unpleasant.

  • Don’t avoid visually descriptive language. Making reference to colors, patterns, designs, and shapes is perfectly acceptable.

  • When you speak about someone with a disability, refer to the person and then to the disability. For example, refer to "a person who is blind" rather than to "a blind person."

  • If a friend, relative, or stranger on the street is traveling with a dog guide, do not pet the dog, offer it food, or distract it in any way while it is working. Dog guides are not pets but highly trained mobility tools.

  • If you see someone who is blind or visually impaired about to encounter a dangerous situation, be calm and clear about warning the person. For example, if he or she is about to bump into a stanchion in a hotel lobby, calmly and clearly call out, "Wait there for a moment; there is a pole in front of you."

  • Do not take care of tasks for the person that he or she would normally do, such as change television channels, cut meat, or salt and pepper food. First ask if the person needs help, then offer to assist. Most people with a visual impairment will tell you if they would like some assistance.

  • If you are asked to complete a task for someone, always leave things in the same place you found them.

  • Do not move furniture or other articles in your friend’s home or your own home without letting the person know.

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