Awareness Raising Fact Sheet

Have you checked your assumptions?

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No amount of glossy brochures will attract or be useful to people who are blind and people with minimal usable vision. Think about other ways to produce your information such as information on a website (which meets web accessibility standards (W3C) of course!), large print information with good contrast and information over the phone.

Yes, people who are blind or vision impaired can use stairs and can use them safely! People might use a handrail, tactile ground surface indicators (which are bumpy domes in a rectangle strip mounted before and after stairs), a white cane or a dog guide, or a combination of these techniques, to safely use stairs. It’s important to think about the needs of all users – if stairs are poorly lit, they will be a tripping hazard for everyone, not just someone who is blind.

Contrary to the opinions of some, dog guides (the generic name for guide dogs and seeing eye dogs) cannot read signage. They are dogs. A person who is blind or vision impaired works in partnership with their dog guide and receives training as a team to learn to navigate regularly used environments and to develop a strong bond to effectively and safely work through less familiar environments using verbal commands.

Dog guides that are working and in harness are permitted in all public areas, with some very few exceptions, such as commercial kitchens and surgical theatres. Otherwise, where a person who is blind or vision impaired goes, their dog guide goes too. An owner of a dog guide is responsible for their own animal, which includes picking up litter after their dog guide.

Absolutely no patting of a dog guide in harness, unless you have the express permission of the owner.

It’s okay to use the word ‘see’ ie. ‘see you later’ and ‘look’ ie. ‘do you mind taking a look at this?’. People who are blind or vision impaired use these words too.

No matter how well you know a person who is blind or vision impaired, it is good practice to introduce yourself when you approach the person, particularly if you are both away from your usual environment. A simple ‘Hi Sarah, it’s John’ can help a person who is blind or vision impaired know who has approached.

Contrary to some myths, most people who are blind or vision impaired do not automatically have enhanced hearing or sense of smell! Most people lose their sight later in life and will not have developed these skills.

Not all people who are blind read Braille. Some people may use Braille for labelling or identifying items, to read signage, some for reading and some not at all.

How people read information can come down to personal choice, convenience and ease. Some people with usable functional vision might use standard print or large print (san serif font like ‘Arial’ in size 16 or greater), audio format, electronic formats, Braille or a number of these formats depending on the task they are working on.

While you may be amazed at the capability of a person who is blind or vision impaired, please please please refrain from using the words ‘courageous’, ‘brave’ or ‘inspirational’ when speaking with or referring to a person who is blind or vision impaired. The person is simply getting on with their life in a way which is different to you, rather than climbing Mount Everest.

A person might use a white cane in the workplace and might use walls and furniture to navigate to where they would like to go. Don’t be alarmed if the person appears to be ‘banging’ into things with their cane – people using a cane are taught to navigate an environment using the cues around them to identify where they are and where they need to go. While it may not look safe, it can be much safer than a person walking around in a space that is not completely familiar. A person in a familiar environment may not need to use a cane at all and that can be okay too.

Just because a person is blind does not necessarily mean that they are also deaf! Many of our members report that people speak much more s l o w l y or much LOUDER because they detect that the person is blind. Speak exactly the way you would speak with anyone else.

People of workforce age who are blind often can use computers, use the internet, check their emails, use mobile phones including SMS, might use Facebook and Twitter and generally access most forms of technology. Just because you haven’t seen it done does not mean that it’s not possible. Don’t be afraid to ask a question or multiple questions and take the time to speak with experts – the person who is blind or vision impaired directly, a disability employment service provider, a professional organisation with expertise in blindness or government resources like Job Access.

People who are blind have interests too – reading books, playing sports, music, theatre, dining and more. Just because a person is blind does not mean that they do not have a variety of interests.

Not all people who are blind know each other. They do not live in the same neighbourhood and did not all go to the same school. While some people will have friends who are blind or vision impaired, others may have little interaction with others who are blind or with blindness service providers.

Not everyone looks blind. Some people have visual conditions which are not automatically apparent and may not use a white cane or dog guide. Some people may have difficulty with seeing things directly ahead or to the side, managing depth, getting around when there is glare or travelling at night. While two people may have the same visual condition, their sight loss could be very different.

Not everyone will want to speak about their vision impairment or blindness. It’s okay to ask but it’s also important that you respect a person’s wishes too – there are things that you may not want to speak about with a stranger or work colleague too.