How-To Tips

Health Literacy

Know Your Audience: Communicating with People Who Have Vision Loss

Feb 1, 2023

The term vision loss refers to “individuals who reported that they have trouble seeing, even when wearing glasses or contact lenses, as well as to individuals who report that they are blind or unable to see at all,” according to the American Foundation for the Blind.

The 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act mandates that public facilities, like hospitals and health centers, provide reasonable accommodations for people who are blind or visually impaired. Here are some ways to help:

Ask if the person wants assistance.The amount of assistance a person with vision loss desires depends on the situation and comfort in asking. Ask if they want help and if so, how you can best be of assistance. It is also important to respect that some people may choose not to reveal their vision loss, especially at initial meetings.

Introduce yourself and others. Identify yourself by name when you enter a room where there is a person who is blind or has significant vision loss. When someone new enters the room, introduce yourself and everyone else present. When someone leaves the room, communicate this too.

Use everyday words. Give clear, specific information and use common words, not medical jargon. Don’t be afraid to use verbs such as “see” and “look” as they are part of everyday speech.

Talk about nonvisual sensory cues. For example, when teaching how to recognize signs of a wound infection include oozing, swelling, tenderness, odor, and heat sensation in addition to red color.

Use design to help people see written materials. Here are some suggestions:

  • Use a simple font and avoid italics or other stylized or decorative lettering.
  • When writing for readers with average vision, use at least 12-point type. When writing for those with vision loss, increase the type size to 18 to 20 points (which is standard for large print).
  • Have a high color contrast between foreground and background. This might be black lettering on white, yellow, or other light-colored paper. Use matte rather than glossy paper to reduce glare.
  • When writing materials by hand, use a thick, felt-tip marker. Use print lettering rather than cursive. But do not write in all capital letters as that can make reading more difficult.

Here are some Health Literacy Out Loud podcasts on this topic:

This How-To Tip is adapted from the chapter “Know Your Audience: Vision Problems” in Helen Osborne’s book, Health Literacy from A to Z: Practical Ways to Communicate Your Health Message, Third Edition (2022).