“I want doctors to treat me with respect, consult me, and listen to me. Just because I’m blind doesn’t mean I’m not like everyone else. Don’t assume that I can’t take care of myself because I will.”

Individuals who are blind, have low vision, or are deafblind often experience barriers and challenges in seeking out and receiving healthcare. The American Foundation for the Blind (AFB) received a grant from the Cabell Huntington Hospital Foundation to develop an understanding of the barriers and challenges experienced by those with vision loss and to develop materials to support healthcare workers to better meet the needs of the population.

2021 Training Materials to Assist Healthcare Workers when Interacting with People who are Visually Impaired

A team of PhD-level researchers, two of whom have visual impairments, developed training materials for healthcare workers. The final products include:

The Research

In 2019, Drs. Bonnie O’Day and Paola Chanes-Mora conducted an extensive literature review about healthcare experiences of individuals who are blind, have low vision, or are deafblind. With information gathered through their literature review, they developed a series of focus group questions.

In Fall 2019, Drs. O’Day and Chanes-Mora conducted two focus groups in the Cabell Huntington area with blind and low vision individuals who had experience with Cabell Huntington Hospital or other area medical facilities. One focus group was comprised of men (n=9) and the other of women (n=8). Most of the participants were white, non-Hispanic and between 55 and 74 years of age.

Ten key findings from the focus groups included:

  • Healthcare professionals who communicate directly with the individual with a vision loss are appreciated as they are treating the individual with respect.
  • It is important that healthcare workers identify themselves, explain what they are going to be doing, and give clear directions.
  • Those with vision loss need access, be it to what’s on their meal tray, admission paperwork, or discharge paperwork. Healthcare providers must provide equal access for all.
  • When one is seeking healthcare, they typically are not feeling well so they may require more assistance than they typically would otherwise. Healthcare workers must be sensitive to this, but not assume someone needs assistance. It’s best to ask an individual if they need assistance and if so what type of assistance they require.
  • Healthcare settings are often large facilities. Many individuals appreciate an escort. When escorting someone who is visually impaired ask if they would like to travel with you using human guide. If they say “yes,” allow them to grasp your arm above the elbow. You will walk half a step in front of the person so they can feel your body movements and anticipate turns, steps, etc.
  • Provide an orientation to the room for individuals who are visually impaired. If the individual is a patient this should include the location of the restroom and how to use the call button, adjust the bed, work the television, order meals, etc.
  • Do not move belongings of someone who is visually impaired without first asking their permission.
  • If an individual is using a guide dog, do not interact with the guide dog. It is there to do a job. Guide dogs can go into any part of a healthcare facility where patients are permitted.
  • If you are assisting someone to complete paperwork, ensure privacy for the individual so their sensitive information is not overheard by others.
  • Don’t assume that when someone with a visual impairment is with someone else that it is the visually impaired person who has come for care. Visually impaired individuals are spouses, parents, friends etc. and may be accompanying someone else coming for care.


The research and resources were funded through a generous grant from the Cabell Huntington Hospital Foundation.


Cupples, M. E., Hart, P. M., Johnston, A., & Jackson, A. J. (2012). Improving healthcare access for people with visual impairment and blindness. BMJ, 344, 1-5. doi:10.1136/bmj.e542

Kendrick, D. (2019). Navigating Healthcare When All They Can See Is that You Can't, National Braille Press.

Kim, N. (2019). Understanding of how older adults with low vision obtain, process, and understand health information and services. Informatics for Health and Social Care, 44(1), 70-78. doi:10.1080/17538157.2017.1363763

O’Day, B., Killeen, M. & Iezzoni, L. (2004). Improving health care experiences of persons who are blind or have low vision: Suggestions from focus groups. American Journal of Medical Quality, 19 (5), 193–200. doi: 10.1177/106286060401900503

Sharts-Hopko, N. C., Smeltzer, S., Ott, B. B., Zimmerman, V., & Duffin, J. (2010). Healthcare Experiences of Women With Visual Impairment. Clinical Nurse Specialist, 24(3), 149-153. doi:10.1097/nur.0b013e3181d82b89