Are You Prepared
for Audience Members Who Are Blind?
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Are you one of those speakers who starts sweating, or who reaches a high nervous level when you notice you have a blind person in your audience? Or maybe you've never encountered a blind audience member and just want to be prepared for when it does happen. You may want to go meet this person; but you are not sure what to do. You might find yourself asking some of the following typical questions.
- How will I shake hands with them?
- Can I talk to them?
- Can I give them a business card, like I do with all other attendees?
- How will they interact with the handouts, slides and overheads?
- Do I have to watch my language and be careful not to say, "As you can see on page 5"?
- And do I need to change the part of my presentation where I have the group watch me demonstrate the activity I'm asking them to do?
Last year I was finalizing my travel plans for the NSA national convention. I called the shuttle service to book my transportation to the airport. After making the arrangements, I asked the lady I was dealing with, "What will my fare would be?" She asked me how many were in my party. I replied, "One . . . and a working guide dog."
She placed me on hold. When she came back she told me it would cost "x" amount for me, and for my dog she would charge me the same fare she would charge a parent traveling with a baby. I said to her, "No, that's not correct." She placed me on hold to check with her supervisor.
When she returned, she repeated the amount it would cost for me and explained there would be no charge for my dog. I said, "That's correct!". Then she asked, "Why didn't you tell me that?" And I responded, "Because you didn't ask me!"
If you don't know how to interact with your audience members or clients who are blind, the best thing you can do is ask them! Here are some additional tips:
When you want to shake hands, introduce yourself audibly. This will allow the blind person an opportunity to size you up and determine where you are standing. He will probably extend his hand to you. Do not make him judge where your hand is; grab his hand. Shake hands and you have now been introduced to a blind person. Congratulations!
Follow your normal rule of thumb, which is probably, "Don't go anywhere without business cards and pass them out to everyone." I hear your wheels turning and you're thinking, "But this person is not going to be able to read my card." That's not your problem!
The sight impaired individual will either "read" your card by having someone else transfer the data into a format that can be handled, or the blind person will read it herself with technology that allows her to do this independently. When you exchange business cards, let her know what you are doing and place the card in her hand. Again, she should not have to guess where you are or where you are holding this for them.
This is vital information the blind participants have come to receive from you, the expert in your field. Don't shortchange them. Make sure they receive everything you distribute to all other participants. If they do not want your handouts, it is up to them to say so. Don't make this decision for them.
Slides and Visual Aids
If you notice before you start the session that you have a blind person in your audience, ask your room monitor or client contact to find someone who will sit next to this person and explain to them what is happening visually. If you do not notice the blind participant until after the session starts, wait until your first break to take care of this. You want to be sure the participant who is blind can obtain all the information he wants from your presentation.
These tips should help you be better prepared, and less nervous, when you encounter someone who is sight-impaired as a participant in one of your seminars. You don't have to be in a total panic or find your shirt or blouse totally soaked with perspiration!
Take your focus off the obvious fact that this participant is blind and is accompanied by a working dog, using a white cane or traveling with a sighted guide. Recognize that this participant has taken time from his or her busy schedule, dealt with transportation challenges to come hear the material you have prepared, and wants to be there to receive information vital to assisting them in their career or life.
The best way to accommodate the needs of the blind participant is to remember this: If you treat each person in your audience as an individual, whether blind or not, most of the barriers will disappear.