This week, in a break from the usual Wednesday night slot, I’m delighted to be writing a piece for Young Person’s Voice month on throughscarlettseyes.com
This week I’m sharing my top ten tips for living with a partially sighted person.
Lots of people who have blind or partially sighted children, parents, siblings, partners and flatmates have never lived with a partially sighted person before, so hopefully these tips will help you.
1. Don’t treat us differently
Whilst it can be easy for parents of blind children to wrap them in cotton wool, that doesn’t help them. They won’t learn to explore, to try things and it will limit their independence as they grow older. Treat them like any other child, you still need to make sure they’re safe, but if they fall over it’s not the end of the world.
Likewise, we can’t all be “inspirational” and being told that I am several times a week is quite draining. There are inspirational disabled people, those who take part in the Paralympics for example, but being told you are inspirational because you get out of bed every day or because you are dressed nicely is both demeaning and frustrating.
2. Don’t panic about what not to say
So many people I know ask me if I watched something on TV last night, then panic that they’ve said something offensive.
Whilst there are some terms which are offensive, don’t overthink things too much. It’s a normal part of speech to say that I watched something on TV, I saw something in the news, I looked at something twice and so on so don’t be afraid to use it.
3. Try not to move things too much.
Lots of things in the home have a place and for blind and partially sighted people it is really helpful if things are put back in their place. There’s nothing more frustrating than having to continually ask where the same thing is.
Likewise, try to avoid putting things on the floor unless you want them to be kicked across the room.
4. Be prepared for the occasional accident
Whether it’s dropping a glass whilst drying it up, knocking over a cup and breaking it because you’d forgotten it was on the table or 101 other reasons, however careful you are things break. As a blind or partially sighted person this happens more often as you can’t see what’s about to happen and so have no way of stopping it. If you live with a partially sighted person, be prepared for this to happen every so often.
Some people I know have plastic cups and glasses but personally I don’t see why I should have cups and glasses which don’t look as nice, even if I have to replace them every so often.
5. Expect to have your eyes “borrowed”
There are some things which take longer when you can’t see what you’re doing and some which are much more difficult. Usually you would just get on with them but in certain situations, maybe when you’re in a rush, when you’re tired or when you’ve spent half an hour looking for something and still can’t find it, when calling on a person with sight to help you out is the best option. If you live with a blind or partially sighted person there will be the occasion when they ask to “borrow your eyes” for a bit of help. If you don’t have time to help out at that moment, just say so, but if you can help most people will really appreciate it.
6. Sometimes, honesty is the best policy
This obviously depends on the dynamic between the two individuals, but on a personal level I would much rather be told before I leave the house that I have a stain on my shirt, that things don’t match or that it looks like it will rain later. I don’t mean being constantly observed (although with children that could be appropriate) and I hope not to get the fashion police, but if you notice something that I haven’t then there’s no harm in pointing it out. At the very least then I will know it’s there.
7. Explain what you can see
It can be really frustrating when everyone else is laughing or commenting on something you can’t see. If possible try to explain what you can see. If it’s something on a TV programme you can always pause it to explain or explain it afterwards. If it’s a photo or something someone has seen out of the window, again take the time to explain it. There’s no need for elaborate detail but if you’ve seen something which everyone is talking about or having a laugh at I want to know about it too.
8. The note on the fridge conundrum
Lots of people wonder, what do you do about leaving a note for your partially sighted housemate or family member?
Obviously, leaving a note on the fridge or the kitchen table (or indeed anywhere else!) isn’t going to work. There are a few possible answers to this one. The simplest is a text, whatsapp or facebook message, that way they can read it as long as they have an accessible phone such as an IPhone or a phone with magnification.
You could always get someone else to pass the message on, but that relies on them remembering to do so.
If they have some sight you can always try writing in large print, but that only works if you have a good idea of what they can readd and what they can’t, otherwise stick to things which are tried and tested.
9. Location is all important
One of the things I always have to think about if I’m moving in somewhere new is where is it.
Is it in a convenient location, one where I can quickly and easily learn the routes I need within a very short time frame. The shops, work or school, the bus stop, the train station and so on.
There’s nothing worse than feeling lost in your own home, the feeling that you’re nervous to go out on your own because the routes are complicated and it takes much more training to learn them than you’re going to get.
While it’s not always possible, for obvious reasons, to choose the ideal location, I have viewed places in the past which I have really liked but which I have not chosen because of where they are.
10. It’s not hard work
Some people have a preconception that having a blind family member, flatmate or partner is a lot of extra hard work compared to a sighted one.
I can say for efinite that that isn’t true.
Yes, things may take us a little longer to do: Yes, we may sometimes ask for help finding something we’ve lost and yes we will occasionally hijack your trip to the supermarket so that we don’t have to go on our own but all things considered most partially sighted people are extremely independent—often more so than able-bodied people of their age—and from all the people I know who have lived with a partially sighted one, hardly any have had a negative experience because of that person’s disability.