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10 tips to prepare for a doctor’s visit for people who are blind

With a little planning and the right questions, people with visual impairments can make medical appointments a little less stressful.

People who are blind must be their own advocates when getting medical treatment. Like any patient, they should ask questions and make informed decisions.

What’s the worst part about a typical visit to the doctor? The long wait? The scary needles? The confusing medical jargon? Add in a visual impairment, and a routine checkup or a visit to the emergency room can be downright stressful.  

But it doesn’t have to be that way. Here are 10 tips to make a visit to the doctor more comfortable and productive for people who are blind:

  1. Call the doctor’s office before your visit to let them know what to expect. For example, tell them if you will bring a guide dog or if you require special assistance.
  2. Share with the doctor any information about your visual impairment that might be relevant to the visit or your condition. Don’t assume he or she will get the full story from your medical records.
  3. Bring a list of any questions you want answered or specific symptoms you need to discuss. In a fast-paced doctor’s visit, it’s easy to forget a vital question or a symptom that might be the key to diagnosing your condition.
  4. Be straightforward about your needs. You have the right to say, for example, “Please identify the other people in the room” or “Can someone guide me to the restroom?”  Be your own advocate.
  5. Don’t be afraid to ask questions. If you don’t understand your doctor’s diagnosis or instructions, ask questions until you do understand. If anything still isn’t clear, ask where you can go for more information.
  6. Bring a printed list of any medications you take, prescription or over-the-counter. Drugs can interact with other drugs, causing side effects or reducing the effectiveness of a medication.
  7. Get the information you need to make an informed decision about treatment. Here are some questions you can ask your doctor: How long will the treatment last? What are the risks and side effects? Are there other treatment options? What medications, foods or activities should be avoided while on the treatment? Is the full cost of the treatment covered by insurance?
  8. Don’t rely on your memory for complicated care instructions. If necessary, bring a friend or family member to take notes for you. Or, use your phone or other recording device to record the conversation (with your doctor’s consent) so you can listen to it again later.
  9. Remember that doctors are not perfect. They may lack knowledgeable about specific visual impairments or about the day-to-day impact of living with blindness. They can make mistakes. If you are not satisfied with the treatment you received, or not confident that you got an accurate diagnosis, request a different doctor or a second opinion.
  10. If necessary, ask for notices of future appointments to be sent in accessible formats. For example, instead of a standard printed letter, you can request large print, phone or email reminders for upcoming appointments.
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