Disclaimer: I am not speaking on behalf of anyone I am just paraphrasing a few conversations I have had with some consumers and friends with vision loss.

Blindness and low vision are not that common (thank goodness).  But there are still many people who have vision loss.  I’ve said in a blog before unless you’ve known someone with vision loss the only thing people know about blindness or vision loss is what they have seen portrayed in the movies and or in media.  I would like to clear up some myths and shed some light on some issues.

1. Not all people who use a white cane are totally blind. – First off, totally blind means a person has no usable sight.  So some people who use a white cane may still be able to see some.  They may be able to see: colors, the sun and/or light sources, shapes, etc.  They may not be able to see: holes in the ground, cracks in the sidewalks, curbs, steps, faces/people, street signs, etc.  They are using a cane to identify the information they are unable to see and protect their body from injury.  A white cane also allows drivers to identify persons with vision loss. Kansas does have the “White Cane Law” (Statute 8-1542) which states: blind pedestrian’s right-of-way – the driver of a vehicle shall yield the right-of-way to any blind pedestrian carrying a clearly visible white cane or accompanied by a guide dog.  http://acb.org/whitecane

2. It is called a White Cane – It is not called a stick! When I hear people calling a white cane a stick its like hearing nails on a chalk board.  A cane is a mobility tool and that is what a white cane is.  It is a tool that enables a person with a vision loss to maneuver their environment safely and efficiently.  Do not touch a person’s white cane unless you ask them or they ask for you to.

3. Just because a person can not see does NOT mean they can’t hear or speak – When you are out or possibly at work and you encounter a person who is blind that person make sure you speak to them in a normal voice.  Do not ask/talk to the person beside the person with vision loss about the person with vision loss’s needs!

4. Just say hello! –  When you see someone using a white cane and they are walking towards you on the sidewalk or coming close to where you are standing…  Just say “Hello”!  Don’t jump out of the way.  Don’t get off in the grass (unless very narrow sidewalk).  Just say hello.  That’s all you have to do.

5. Use your words – Here in the Midwest we are nice people (most of the time).  We open doors, say hello, and help people when we can.  So if you do these things for a person who has a vision loss make sure you say what you are doing, can do, would like to do.  For example: “Hi there! I’m holding the door open for you, go ahead.”  “Would you like help finding the front door?”  “Be careful down the hall you are walking in.  There is a wet floor sign by the fourth door and a large puddle that takes up most of the hallway.”  Remember saying things such as “Its right there”, “Look out”, “over there” and so on are not helpful for people who can not see.

6. Being Independent means different things to different people –   I work with individuals who have vision loss.  This vision loss can range from hard to read prescription bottles to totally blind with no light perception.  When I work with these individuals I teach them skills so they are able to live their life “as independently as possible”.  For some people “as independently as possible” may mean they are able to do everything on their own: cook, clean, find transportation, etc.  For others “as independently as possible” may mean they have assistance with a task such as vacuuming, laundry, etc.  Neither of these is better than the other, it’s what works best for each individual.



If you can’t see it, it’s not real.  Right?  But we don’t see the air that we can feel in our lungs.  We don’t see the wind that we can feel on our skin and blow our hair.  And the same goes for people with disabilities that we (society) can’t see, they can feel them and the pain that can be associated with them.

According to the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA) an individual with a disability is a person who: has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities.  Furthermore, “A person is considered to have a disability if he or she has difficulty performing certain functions (seeing, hearing, talking, walking, climbing stairs and lifting and carrying), or has difficulty performing activities of daily living, or has difficulty with certain social roles (doing school work for children, working at a job and around the house for adults)” (Disabilities Affect One-Fifth of All Americans).

When society thinks of disabilities they usually visualize individuals who use wheelchairs and or another mobility device.  This is very far from the truth.  In 1995, 75% of people with disabilities were not using a wheelchair or mobility device (Americans with Disabilities 94-95).  Society has this idea due to our media and what it depicts as “disabled”.  The media uses people who are wheelchair users or use another mobility device (walker, cane, etc.) because society doesn’t have to question the image.  If the media used a picture of a person with an invisible disability the person would look “normal” and society would then question the image of whether it was false because the person doesn’t “look disabled.”  As we all know, people are fast to judge people (not only in the media but in our communities) by how they look.  Some people have a hard time “believing” that a person has a disabilities because they look “normal” or “fine”.

Some invisible disabilities (not an exclusive list):
Asperger Syndrome
Bipolar Disorder
Brain Injury
Chronic Fatigue
Chronic Pain
Crohn’s Disease
Irritable Bowel Syndrome
Lyme Disease
Multiple Sclerosis
Multiple Chemical Sensitivity
Rheumatoid Arthritis

I think we all need to be reminded that people have more going on in their lives than what we can see.  And we should never assume or judge a person by his/her looks.  Don’t forget, looks can be deceiving and just because a person looks good doesn’t mean they feel good.




If you have not had many interactions with persons with disabilities, you may not know exactly how to act. For example, you may ask yourself “how do I talk to someone in a wheelchair?” or “how do I interact with someone who is blind or deaf?” These questions often come to our minds whether we have a disability or not.

The United Spinal Association put together a Disability Etiquette booklet for all of us to learn and to have a better understanding about interacting with people with disabilities.

This booklet provides the basics, tips on specific disabilities, service animals, and much more. To give you an idea of what you can learn from the booklet, below is the portion about the basics of disability etiquette.


Just because someone has a disability, don’t assume he/she needs help. If the setting is accessible, people with disabilities can usually get around fine. Adults with disabilities want to be treated as independent people. Offer assistance only if the person appears to need it. And if he/she does want help, ask how before you act.


Some people with disabilities depend on their arms for balance. Grabbing them-even if your intention is to assist-could knock them off balance. Avoid patting a person on the head or touching his/her wheelchair, scooter or cane. People with disabilities consider their equipment part of their personal space.


Always speak directly to the person with a disability, not to this companion, aide or sign language interpreter. Making small talk with a person who has a disability is great; just talk to him/her as you would with anyone else. Respect his/her privacy. If you ask about his/her disability, he/she may feel like you are treating him/her as a disability, not as a human being. However, many people with disabilities are comfortable with children’s natural curiosity and do not mind if a child asks them questions.

When communicating to people with disabilities or about people with disabilities, keep in mind what words and phrases you are using. Below are some guidelines that will help you understand.

Disability vs. Handicap

  • A disability is a condition caused by such things as an accident or trauma, disease, or genetics that limits a person’s vision, hearing, speech, mobility, or mental function.
  • A handicap is a constraint imposed upon a person, regardless of that person’s ability or disability. These constraints can be physical or attitudinal. For example, stairs and curbs are handicaps imposed on those who use wheelchairs.

Always remember that the person is not the condition. Keep all your speech person focused, not disability focused. Avoid terms which carry a negative connotation such as abnormal, afflicted, confined, crippled, defective, handicap, invalid, lame, palsied, retarded, stricken, sufferer, victim, and withered. Instead use empowering individualized vocabulary. Also, don’t clump them with phrases like “the blind” or “the disabled.”


People with disabilities are the best judge of what they can or cannot do. Don’t make decisions for them about participating in any activity. Depending on the situation, it could be a violation of The Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) to exclude people because of a presumption about their limitations.


When people who have a disability ask for an accommodation at your business, it is not a compliant. It shows they feel comfortable enough in your establishment to ask for what they need. And if they get a positive response, they will probably come back again and tell their friends about the good service they received.

The key thing to remember is if you are ever unsure what to do or say with a person who has a disability just ask them. They are willing to help you to understand and learn. You can learn more about disability etiquette such as specific disabilities by going to www.unitedspinal.org and click on disability etiquette booklet. Or you can go to your local RCIL office to view a hard copy of the booklet in their resource library.

Before I close, I would like to include a final word from disability etiquette booklet that is important to know. It says,

“People with disabilities are individuals with families, jobs, hobbies, likes and dislikes, and problems and joys. While the disability is an integral part of who they are, it alone does not define them. Don’t make them into disability heroes or victims. Treat them as individuals.”

While walking one day you see a man standing at an intersection holding a white cane.  Does he need assistance?  Is he okay?  How does he know where he’s going?

ASK HIM!  Just walk up, tap him on the shoulder and say in your normal tone of voice “Do you need any assistance? Are you okay?”  He may say “No thank you, I’m fine”.  That’s okay, it’s his choice.  He may ask you to let him know when the street is clear to walk.  He may ask if he is aligned to go to a certain location.  Or he may ask you to assist him across the street.

If he does ask you to assist him across the street do not grab him by the arm and start walking!  Instead, put your arm closer to his hand so he can find it and allow him to hold on to you.  He will place his hand above your elbow.  Hold your arm in a natural way – don’t bend it like you are escorting him to prom!  Once you are across the street he may let go and tell you thank you.  Or he could ask you for more assistance such as: what block are you two on, how close are you to a certain location or would you mind guiding him to a certain location.

If the gentleman was deaf-blind (has a hearing loss and vision loss) he could have a communication card asking for assistance.  This card would tell you what assistance he was wanting and how to communicate with him.  Again, don’t just grab him by the arm and start walking, read the card and follow the directions.  He may use written communication or he may point in the direction he needs to go.  Again, place your arm near his and allow him to hold your arm.

If you are in your car and you see someone with a white cane wanting to cross the street, do not honk your horn at him/her.  First off, the person will not know if the horn is attended for him/her, if it means go or if it means get out of the way.

Just remember, treat the person with the respect and dignity and you’ll both go far.