Writing a story involving blindness or low vision? Start here.
Tips for Interviewing a Person Who Is Blind or Visually Impaired
- Use the same interviewing techniques and manner that you usually do. Speak in relaxed, everyday tones.
- Identify yourself and others who are with you. If a group is involved, remember to identify the person to whom you are speaking.
- It is perfectly fine to use “visual” words and phrases in conversation, e.g. “Nice to see you,” “See you later,” etc. Same goes for conversational topics such as attending a sporting event, concert, or watching television (in fact, blind people watch nearly as much TV as those who are sighted!).
- If the interviewee employs a guide dog, do not interact with the animal. They are working and need to remain distraction-free.
- Include proper direction when photographing or video recording: “Please turn your head slightly to the left,” not: “Turn your face towards me.”
- It is also helpful for the interviewee if the photographer keeps talking throughout the process, including a 1-2-3 countdown to when the photo is taken. This allows the interviewee to know when they can relax vs. continuing to hold a pose and a smile.
It’s Okay to Ask
Neva Fairchild, AFB’s National Aging Initiative Specialist, has over 25 years of professional experience in blindness rehabilitation and a lifetime of experience living with low vision. She was diagnosed at an early age with cone rod degeneration, a rare genetic eye condition.
“Feel free to ask questions about vision loss,” Neva says. “I know many people feel uncomfortable, but it is not rude to ask, how do you use a computer, an iPhone, how do you cook – things like that. Especially for a reporter.”
The same holds true for tech devices…
Technology Used by People Who Are Blind or Visually Impaired
People who are blind or visually impaired frequently use specifically designed devices meant to make their everyday lives easier. Apple products, for example, while not specifically designed for people with disabilities, come with robust accessibility features that empower blind people with more independence.
It might be a device the reporter has never seen before. Again: It’s okay to be curious and ask. You’ll probably even get a demonstration. If you want to learn more about assistive technology designed for people who are blind or visually impaired, check out our detailed Assistive Technology Products overview.
Writing About People With Visual Impairments
- When possible, use person-first language, e.g. "a person with low vision." It is acceptable to switch to a phrase like “blind people” after the initial person-first usage. Avoid using “the blind” as a collective noun.
- Avoid phrases and descriptions that connote pity, e.g. “afflicted with” or “suffers from.” “Has low vision” or “is blind” is fine.
- Blind, legally blind, visually impaired, and low vision are all perfectly acceptable – determine the context and use the appropriate word or phrase. If you are uncertain, AFB's explanation of "Low Vision and Legal Blindness Terms and Descriptions" is a useful resource.
- Avoid euphemistic phrases like "hard of seeing" or "differently abled."
There are hundreds of blindness organizations across the country, ranging from the national to state to local levels. Many organizations have a particular focus, including research, advocacy, professional training, medical aspects, and even sports, to name just a few.
If you are writing about an organization, be sure to get the name right. Case in point, there are several national blindness organizations with similar-sounding names:
Please note, the “American Federation of the Blind” does not exist.
Given how many of us get our news from the internet, the importance of having an accessible website is paramount. Not every website, however, is optimally designed for use by web users with visual impairments. When a website is built without regard to inclusive design, it becomes inaccessible by people with vision loss who use access technology.
No matter your beat, no matter your outlet, reaching the widest possible audience benefits everyone. So talk to your editors and your web team to make sure your news site is accessible. For a primer, visit our section on Accessibility Resources, and follow our Accessibility Guidelines for Social Media when you share your story.
Additional Resources for Reporters
The National Center on Disability and Journalism has a number of great resources for reporters, including:
- Reporting: https://ncdj.org/resources/reporting/
- Writing and editing: https://ncdj.org/resources/writing-and-editing/
- Disability Language Style Guide: https://ncdj.org/style-guide/
- Tips for interviewing people with disabilities: https://ncdj.org/resources/interviewing-tips/
- Disability Reporting Checklist: https://ncdj.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/01/Disability-Reporting-Checklist-_PDF.pdf
For further reading: What journalists can do better to cover the disability beat, Columbia Journalism Review (September 5, 2017)