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Is she smiling? Reading people's emotions on their face

While we use nonverbal communication all the time, we rarely think about it. This is particularly true of sighted people. In a social situation, a sighted person will effortlessly read other people's emotions from their posture, facial expression and voice intonation. On the other hand, low vision and blind people rely mainly on voice intonation, and have difficulty with posture and facial display of emotions. Because sighted people use these communication channels without thinking, they often end up excluding blind and low vision people in social situations.
I was wondering how the limitation in reading faces can affect social and professional life for blind and low vision people. Are there social situations where not knowing facial expressions of emotion creates problems? I am thinking about dating, job interviews, or work meetings for instance.
Is body language an issue at all in terms of accessibility and social inclusion of blind and low vision people? If yes, how big of an issue is it compared to other issues one might face?

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Re: Is she smiling? Reading people's emotions on their face

I hope it isn't too late to reply to this post since it's been a while since it was posted. I try to turn in the direction of a person when they talk.

Re: Is she smiling? Reading people's emotions on their face

I recently started driving ride share. I am chatting to my passengers without visual face to face eye contact. I was suprised to discover that my perceptions of my passengers was very different when I could not see them than when I could. If I can not see them I am wholly unaware of whether they are ugly in the conventional sense or good looking, whether they are white or black or brown, whether they are tall or short fat or thin American Mexican Chinese European, well dressed or scruffy. I form a view about the person based on tone responsive listening attitude inflextions knowledge sensitivity to opposing views articulation balanced opinions. It struck me that sighted people form a view about a stranger based on visual information. But how reliable is this. If two people one sighted and one blind meet a stranger will they both form the same view about the person and which will be the most accurate and reliable. If job interviews were conducted
without visual contact would this change who gets the job and who does not.

Re: Is she smiling? Reading people's emotions on their face

If it's not too late, I'll chime in. Your question caught my attention because it can be, for me at least, an overwhelming challenge at times. It's one one the things that frustrated me most in my last job. I have low vision, so I don't (air quotes) "look blind" - that made me cringe just to type it. I worked remotely, leading a virtual team for many years, which for me was wonderful. Has my vision got worse over time, it was an easy adjustment from a day to day aspect, with the help of some assitive technology. The hard part was when I had to go to face to face meetings for various projects or to "connect" with my direct reports and extended team.

Oddly enough, traveling via cabs and through aiports with perfect strangers was easy. I would just say, "excuse me, I have low vision, can you tell me what gate number this is?" and perfect strangers would pleasantly respond with the needed info and all was good. The challenges were with people I worked with, sometimes daily. So we knew eachother, at least virtually via teleconferences.

After the meetins, I would get feedback from my leadership that people thought I was distant or cold because I didn't make eye contact. I would get coached on how others perceived me and it was my job to change their perception. A bit challenging when I can't see their face.. But to some extent, my boss was right. It was my job to take the action to change their perception. Whether or not they changed it was up to them.

So, I made it a point to ensure they were aware of my "visual challenges" when the opportunity arose to slide it into conversation in a subtle yet substantial way, I did. Ex: "Did you notice Chris' response (facial expression) when the data was reviewed?" "Well, actually, no, I didn't. I have low vision and can't see more than 2 feet in front of me. Tell me about it, was she pretty PO'd?" I also made sure to have one of my direct reports sitting near me, to basically interpret the room for me. They would give me the visual cues I was missing. I do this as well in social situations. I never go alone anymore. And if for some reason I am sitting alone, I never initiate conversations, rather, I wait until whomever might walk over to me to start the conversation, so I can get an idea of who the person is.

So taking these types of actions helped, but it doesn't lessen the overall frustration. And I would not consider these actions "best practices"; for sure. I think to some extent you can read a person's overall body language from their voice & their tone.. I know that as part of a virtual team I had to learn to do this. It's just kind of a communication style I guess.

In comparison to other vision loss issues I face, I don't know. I mean, it is what it is. I don't know that you can always compare things. Challenges are just that: challenging. :)

Not sure if I answered your questions, but hopefully what I've shared is helpful.

Re: Is she smiling? Reading people's emotions on their face

(This post was deleted by the author on 6/7/2016 at 2:45 PM)

Re: Is she smiling? Reading people's emotions on their face

excellent point. I guess I sometimes think a person's common sense would prevail, but can see how inexperience and lack of knowledge would supercede that; akin to being panic stricken.
Probably negligent on my part given how common sense is superceded so often by so many variables in situational reality.

(This post was edited by the author on 6/7/2016 at 2:43 PM)

Re: Is she smiling? Reading people's emotions on their face

sighted people in corridors. I won't justify it, but I guess I can try to explain. First, most sighted people have NO UNDERSTANDING of the blind people needs. Maybe in part because of those movies you mentioned. So in corridors, they just mindlessly do the exact same thing they do in the street. It comes from a good intention I would argue (do not bother). But there is also probably some social avoidance, a semi-conscious preference for not dealing with blind people, because ultimately they don't know how to behave properly. Body language is not as effective, and without training or giving it some thought, it's probably a bit uncomfortable around a blind person.
I am impressed that you have come up with your own pretty effective answers. Ballpark eye contact definitely makes sighted people more comfortable. And being called out when excluding a blind person from a conversation is so shameful I wouldn't expect the people in the room to ever do it again.

Re: Is she smiling? Reading people's emotions on their face

hi, you are welcome, and I hope you find it useful.
I'm actually not sure how to answer your first question. My personality as you could probably tell I you rea any of my other posts could probably be described as forward, if not intrusive. I don't leave people much of a choice to speak or not if I want to hear from them. LOL Physical settings don't allow the ease of hiding that a teleconference, video conference, or message boards/blogs even do.
I would say I miss speech in movies during high action scenes, or where the director is going fordramatic visual effect; speech gives lots of context for most movies, I don't really even have to ask what's going on. Something like Transformers though, I think I actually fell asleep for a while.
when I was young, I use to get nervous when people were silent around me, but I've just learned to manage through those situations as I've gotten older.
I did develop the looking in the face of sighted people on my own. I'm currently mentoring a young blind student at an area elementary school, and he stares straight ahead when he's taling, regardless of where his conversational partner his. I'm constantly tapping his shoulder or asking him where I am to help him stop.
Now a question or you or any others with sight: Why do sighted people, especially on streets or in hallways become deadly silent when a blind person approaches them? Some will even try to sneak from the spot where they were last heard, and try and tiptoe out of the way. It would seem to make more sense, that if you want to avoid being run into, that sound would be your ally, and that a person who relies exclusively on their hearing to navigate, would benefit from being able to hear you. Just a thought. And, most of us are trained to key off of voices and move around you, so becoming quiet, and tiptoing out of the way actually increases the odds that you will be run into.
Have a good one... Mike

(This post was edited by the author on 6/3/2016 at 2:48 PM)

Re: Is she smiling? Reading people's emotions on their face

Hi Mike,
thank you for your fascinating reply! It explains my recent experience when I met blind people at work and I did feel somewhat clumsy/uneasy around them. I probably felt the disadvantage you mentioned in terms of speech communication. They also seemed to always know where I was, whether I spoke or not. After a while I felt silly trying to make them comfortable.
Excluding a blind person from a conversation by using their disability is despicable. I am glad that you were assertive enough to confront these people. How much do you feel you're missing out on when people are not speaking?
Making ballpark eye contact is a cool skill. Did you train yourself?

Re: Is she smiling? Reading people's emotions on their face

I don't think body language is as impactful as eye contact. Mostly because sighted people are at a disadvantage with low vision / blind folks so long as they are speaking.
examples: visual people are so conscious of how they look to others, how they are visually perceived, they don't protect their voices as much in stressful, or potentially confrontational situations. Even at work, it is easy to hear the strain in a person's voice when body language, facial expressions would display control.
Even if people around me try hand gestures and don't talk, you can hear the rustle of clothing, squeaking of chairs/tables ETC to know something is going on. I've called a few people out on it, and they get very nervous trying to dance around the communication from which they intended to exclude me. Or, they realized they were busted and came clean.
Dating, in particular trying to pick women up at bars is where i struggled when I was young. A female friend once told me if i could make cross the bar / room eye contact with the way i was built, and looked, i'd have no problems getting women.
this bit of advice came in handy with all social interactions, especially at work.
I've learned to direct my face towards others, and it's easy to gauge from where their voice comes to guess where their eyes are. Even if you're in the ballpark, a sighted person will naturally gravitate to your eyes as it is a sighted person's tendency.
Handshaking, is a consideration often overlooked as well. I've leaned to short arm it a bit, and let the sighted person come to me.
I've accidentally touched more than one boob in my early life to learn this lesson. now most guys with a frat boy mentality would say "oh you're the luckiest SOB in the world."
I asure you, it is quite humiliating when that happens, immensely embarrassing.
Most women will either take pity on you, or think you are a creep taking advantage of your lack of sight; I have no desire for either.
Hope this gives some insight for you.
p.s. i've complained about this before, I hate the way Hollywood portrays blind people.
i dont know anyone who feels faces, or counts steps. this is not the 19th century. Most of them talk funny in the movies too; drives me nuts!
If you ever watched or watch again At First sight (i think it's called) with Val Kilmer, pay attention to his presight and post-sight speech. His tone prior to sight is sheepish, and he has a bit of a lisp even. After his operation when his sight returns, his lisp miraculously disappears, and his tone is quite emboldened... rediculous.
My favorite movie is Red Dragon, the blind woman in there counts steps, even makes it rhyme! WTF! She also requests to feel the guy's face. I sincerely apologize to any blind people who may still do that; i find it creepy, and have personally, never done it. and of course... they cleverly put her in a dark room working with film. how astronomically cliche.

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