Caring for visually impaired individuals presents unique challenges and opportunities. As a support worker or caregiver, your role is vital in helping these individuals lead fulfilling, independent lives. Here we aim to provide practical guidance and resources to enhance your care approach for visually impaired patients.

Understanding the Needs of Visually Impaired Individuals

First and foremost, it’s crucial to understand that visual impairment varies greatly. Some patients may have partial vision, while others might have no vision at all. The key is to assess their level of independence and provide support tailored to their specific needs.

Effective communication

Effective communication forms the bedrock of providing care. Always announce your presence when entering a room and identify yourself. Speak directly to the individual, not through a third party. Remember, visual impairment does not affect a person’s hearing ability, so there’s no need to raise your voice unless requested.

Mobility and orientation

Supporting mobility and orientation is a significant aspect of providing care. Familiarise yourself with basic orientation and mobility techniques. For example, you can offer your arm instead of grabbing theirs when guiding, and describe the environment, noting any obstacles.

Household adaptations

Create a safe and navigable living space. This might include arranging furniture for clear pathways, securing rugs to prevent slips, and using tactile markers (i.e., raised dots) on appliances. When caring for someone at home, onsistency is key – avoid moving objects or furniture without informing them.

Encouraging Independence

Empower independence by encouraging skills like Braille system reading or using assistive technologies. There are numerous resources available, from smartphone apps that narrate text to talking watches and thermometers in accessible formats.

Visual impairment can be isolating, so emotional support is crucial. Encourage them to express their feelings and seek professional help if needed. Be an active listener and offer a shoulder to lean on. Assist with personal care as detailed in their individualised care plan, but also respect their privacy and independence. Offer help, but allow them to guide you on how much assistance they require.

Navigating Technology and Education

Introduce them to technology designed for visually impaired users. Many devices and software are available that can aid in reading, identifying objects, and even navigating spaces.

If they’re interested in education, assist them in exploring their options. Many organisations provide education, career counselling and mana enhancement services for visually impaired individuals.

Here are some good NZ resources:

  • Blind Low Vision NZ is a non-profit organisation that provides support and services to people of all ages across New Zealand who are blind or have low vision. They offer resources on eye conditions, guiding others, maintaining eye health, using accessible technology, and tips for living with vision loss.
  • Whaikaha – Ministry of Disabled People provides a range of equipment that can support people who are blind or have reduced vision with work or study, or to live safely in their home.
  • Healthify provides a list of organisations that offer support services to people with blindness and low vision, such as counselling, orientation and mobility services, adaptive daily living services, adaptive technology, and employment support.

Celebrating World Braille Day

As we celebrate World Braille Day, commemorating the birth of Louis Braille and his groundbreaking Braille system, it’s a poignant moment to reflect on how the world can be navigated by the visually impaired. Observed globally on January 4th, this day serves to raise awareness about the importance of Braille as a means of communication in the full realisation of the human rights for blind and low vision people.

As support workers or caregivers of the visually impaired, it’s vital to provide resources and training on how patients can be better supported. Encouraging blind youth and adults and partially sighted people to embrace technology and assistive tools not only aids in their everyday tasks but also empowers them to participate fully in a society where independence is key.

In celebrating this day, we also recognise the efforts of the United Nations and various organisations worldwide to spread awareness about the importance of Braille signage and system. Their work in advocating for resources and accessibility highlights the ongoing journey towards an inclusive world where visual impairments are not a barrier to accessing information.