How to talk to someone who's blind

Two new e-books from Perkins explain how sighted people can work and socialize with people who are visually impaired

Four people talking on a subway, one of them carrying a white cane.

The e-books offer tips on how to interact with people who are blind in any situation.

November 10, 2016

Would you hire someone who is blind? Invite him over for dinner? Say hello if you passed her on the sidewalk? 

If you answered “no,” you’re not alone – for many Americans, blindness conjures up feelings of awkwardness, pity and even fear. It’s something they simply don’t know how to deal with.

“There’s often all this anxiety from people when they see me or another blind person,” said William Budding, a young professional living in Boston. “All the flags go up and they’re like, ‘What do I do? How do I act?’”

To answer those questions, Perkins School for the Blind has released two new e-books that encourage more interaction between the sighted public and people who are blind. They are part of BlindNewWorld, a social change campaign launched in May that works to demystify blindness.

The e-books, available for free on the Perkins website, offer straightforward tips on how to interact with people with visual impairment – whether they’re applying for a job, sitting in the office breakroom or riding the subway.

The first e-book, titled “Working Together, Every Day,” gives readers a three-step tutorial in inclusive hiring. There are tips on eliminating barriers in the recruitment process, interviewing candidates who are blind, and building accessible workspaces for new employees with visual impairment.

For employers who are on the fence about hiring someone who is blind, the e-book gives them the knowledge to move forward confidently.

“Once you educate yourself, you find out how easy it can be,” said Richard Curtis, vice president of talent acquisition at State Street. “Individuals who have visual impairment are just as capable as anyone else, as long as they have the correct support.”

The second e-book, “Including Everybody, Every Day,” urges readers to reach out to people who are blind in social situations. It encourages people who are sighted to include their neighbor or colleague who is blind in social events, and to say hello when they pass someone with a white cane on the street. It includes a list of suggestions for interacting with people with visual impairment in public, at the office and at parties or playdates.

The e-book notes that 55 percent of Americans haven’t interacted with a person who is blind in the past year, according to a study commissioned by Perkins. Many couldn’t remember the last time they saw a person with visual impairment.

Sighted people often don’t realize that people who are blind enjoy many of the same hobbies and activities they do. One of those people is Perkins teacher Kate Katulak, whose photo appears on the e-book’s cover.

“I like to karaoke, I like to sing, I like adventure sports like skydiving,” she said. “The older I get the more I’m wanting to experience all there is in life.”

Perhaps the most important piece of etiquette advice for sighted people is to relax and be yourself. After all, as the book notes, “Interacting with someone who is blind isn’t rocket science.”

That’s something Budding agrees with wholeheartedly.

“Blindness is a normal thing,” he said. “We have normal social lives and run businesses and do all these things that everybody else does.”