I think, as a sighted person first meeting/working with someone with a vision impairment, you have to resist the feeling of responsibility to describe everything visual. In reality, that’s just not possible and also, in general, not helpful.
I, Vicky, think there’s 2 elements to consider:
1. When describing someone (or anything for that matter), how much is your interpretation and how much is factual?
2. How useful is the information you’re trying to give?
So, thinking of number 1, if I described someone as attractive to Dave, obviously that’s my opinion and, if Dave could see them, it might not be an opinion he shared. Which would suggest this is probably not the most helpful way of describing someone 😊 smiley face!
But, relating to number 2, if I just described the factual basics i.e. hair colour, eye colour, shape of face etc. of what benefit is this to Dave? Also, to be accurate, would I describe this person when they were standing right in front of us? – no probably not.
I think it’s easier to think about this in the way we do when demonstrating sight guiding - give the information people need to know, for example, if the grounds uneven, etc., not the colour of the walls you’re walking past! So, if we’re in a crowd and people are using a lot of facial expressions or gestures to convey their meaning, then I will describe this to Dave so that he doesn’t miss out on important elements of the social interaction, but I wouldn’t waste my time (or his) on describing the physical appearance of everyone around us. However, obviously it’s an individual thing and some vision impaired people may want more information than others so it’s always worth checking if you’re unsure. It also depends on the context.
Interestingly, I have never described myself to Dave. I don’t think physical appearances are that important to me anyway, although we have laughed previously, when I’ve been moaning about an element of my appearance I don’t like, about what visual image he has of me – he’s never said, which is probably a good thing 😊 smiley face.
As Dave mentioned in his post though, when he works as a Community Employment Specialist, a role I support him with, I do sometimes describe people if I think their appearance may affect their job seeking (this is not me being judgemental, just passing on visual information that employers would see). However, and I have been asked if I do this, I never describe every member of the group and how they look, it’s just not relevant. I might mention if someone looked really ill or fed up or struggled to make eye contact with anyone, as this might influence the way Dave interacts with them on that day and help him think about how best to assist them. That said, Dave picks a lot of this up from people’s voice, manner etc.
Taking Dave’s point about preconceptions based on appearances, I think my upbringing and the years in the different roles I’ve done have definitely proved to me not to pass judgement on people purely based on physical appearance (don’t judge a book by the cover and all that) but obviously there are things I will notice and which I may inadvertently form an opinion on (although for me, I’m much more likely to notice whether a person is smiley or not rather than the colour of their hair). I’m sure though, Dave also does this but forms an opinion from their voice, smell etc.!
Having said all of that, there are times when I just can’t help describing a visual image to Dave even when it’s not essential – there are just some things that in my opinion he shouldn’t miss out on. As an example, we were up in London crossing the road and I said to Dave “oh wow, I have to describe what I can see to you”. Basically, there was a lady walking a little way in front of us with some (very) tight Lycra trousers and an extremely wobbly bottom. We didn’t pass any judgement though, just had a bit of a giggle!
Dave - So, Vicky, what do you look like? Should I describe what I think you look like based on our previous conversations? :-)
Vicky – You can risk that if you’re feeling brave 😊 - smiley face
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