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Visual Impairment – Communication in Healthcare


Treating Patients with Visual Impairment

Patients who are blind or vision impaired will have different needs to other groups. In the general population, 70% of information is visual. Sight loss can therefore totally change the way that people communicate. Getting communication right is so important, but obviously difficult in a busy environment.

Varying Needs

People vary in what they can see, and this reflects in what they need from communication. A small number of patients will be totally blind. Aside from this, there is a huge variation in types of sight loss.

Someone who has central vision loss (e.g. Macular Disease) may not see faces or expressions; they may not see written signs, or be able to read a hospital menu card. However they may be able to find their way around safely.

If you are treating a patient with peripheral vision loss (e.g. Glaucoma, Retinitis Pigmentosa) be aware that they may not see what is right next to them; though may be able to see straight ahead very clearly. As an example of how to work with them, if you give them something, physically hand it to them rather than leaving it next to them.

Although people differ in many ways, one common need is for a good level of ambient light. Get this right and communication will be much smoother for patients with partial sight.

Communication Tips

If you remember one thing it is this: make your communication verbal, not visual. Simply think of communicating as you do on the telephone.

When first speaking to someone with sight loss, tell them who you are – your name and your role. Don’t rely on them recognising your face, name badge or uniform. Also as they may meet a number of staff in quick succession; it is not certain they will remember you on later occasions. There is a limit to the number of voices a human can remember!

Normally when healthcare staff listen, they nod and make eye contact to show interest. Where talking to someone with severe sight loss, you may need to make this more verbal. Again this is something you probably have plenty of practice at in telephone calls. If you are taking notes whilst talking to someone, let them know this as it will explain silences.

Using gestures and expressions is fine if this helps you to communicate naturally. However, try to reflect what you are feeling in your voice as well. This means that patients who are blind or visually impaired get more feedback to what they are saying.

This article won’t have covered every situation that you as nurses, doctors and other healthcare staff encounter. Where you are not sure on something it is often best to ask your patient themselves. They are the expert on how much help they need, and how best to help them. And they will probably appreciate the personal touch of your effort to get it right.

What’s most important to remember?

Everyone is different, and what people need in communication partly depends on the type of sight loss they have. Focus on the verbal aspect of your communication. And if in doubt, ask.

For information on how Create Vision UK can assist healthcare organisations to provide accessible services to people with visual impairments, please see this page:

Source by Mary Parsons

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