People with vision impairments are often in situations where they are asked questions about their disabilities. As a person who is blind, I can personally tell you that it happens all the time. I’ve had to describe my vision to my college professors; I’ve gotten questions from coworkers; I’ve had to explain it to the plumber coming to my house to fix my bathtub drain.
The problem is, many people who are blind or visually impaired have never learned how to talk about their disabilities. They are used to talking about them with a doctor or a parent or a TVI, but when it comes to addressing the general public, too many students don’t know what to say. Some fumble along through an explanation, sounding confused and unsure; others describe it just as they might with their doctor or vision teacher, with medical terms abound. It is an important skill needed in adult life, and is all too frequently overlooked.
So Why Does It Matter?
For students preparing for transition, being able to talk about their vision impairments is an important skill for two major reasons:
- Social and communication skills: As your student enters adult life, people will ask her all sorts of questions about herself, some of which will undoubtedly be about her disability. If she can answer these questions clearly and adeptly, she will demonstrate confidence, social responsiveness, knowledge and respectability.
- Self advocacy: Part of being a good self advocate is knowing yourself and being able to communicate your strengths and needs to others. Learning to describe her vision impairment to others will be a way for your student to build her self advocacy skills, and will help her to communicate effectively with employers, professors, service workers, and other important figures in her young adult life. When she needs assistance from someone who doesn’t know her well, being able to explain her vision and vision needs will be essential.
How to Do It
Challenging as it may be for a student at first, learning how to talk about a disability can be quite simple. Here are 3 tips for helping your student to talk about her vision impairment with people she encounters. I tend to think of it as following the 3 E’s: be Efficient, make it Easy to understand, and give Examples.
1. Be Efficient
In other words, keep it brief. A student should be able to talk about her vision impairment in an elevator speech of sorts, about 30 seconds or so. Answering in a way that is concise keeps people interested. It may lead someone to ask more questions, which is fine as long as the person answering them is comfortable with that. For students with some intellectual disabilities or who struggle with communication, having a short response means that it can be crafted and scripted if the student finds that helpful. She can practice and learn it so that the description of her disability is no longer difficult and confusing, but familiar and comfortable.
2. Make It Easy To Understand
It’s important to remember that the general public doesn’t know much about vision impairment, so using jargon and medical terminology can feel confusing to the listener. Instead of describing acuities or parts of the eye, try using descriptions like, “I have no vision in my left eye,” or “I can only see out of the sides of my eyes.” Sharing information in this way makes it easier for the listener to conceptualize, and therefore more able to provide effective help if needed. Taking the medical jargon away also makes the vision impairment less something to be confused about or afraid of, and generally more approachable.
3. Give Examples
For students who have any level of functional vision, it is helpful to give examples. If possible, give an example of something in the current environment. For instance, “I can see that there’s a street sign over there, but I can’t read what it says.” Or, “I can see that you have dark hair, but I can’t make out any of your facial features. This makes it easy for the person to connect with, lets them know what can be seen and what cannot.
Learning to talk about a disability to others may sound like a small feat, but make no mistake: it can have a huge impact on the way your student communicates with the people around her. Following these tips to develop a quick, easy, and approachable way to describe a vision impairment will allow your student to take another step toward successful transition into adulthood.