When Independence Day arrives, many people overlook the true meaning of the holiday and are concerned with hosting a big barbecue, lighting fireworks and attending parades. However, this July 4th may be a good time to focus on what it means to have independence in a different way — by assisting those whose independence has been infringed upon by a disability.
People who suffer from blindness or lack of mobility have learned to live life with limited independence, but you can help improve their freedom.
It’s easy to take for granted just how much you rely upon your eyesight for everyday tasks. That’s why living life without the gift of sight is difficult. While the blind can lead very independent lives, there are times when they may need assistance. Here are some ways you can help the visually impaired, courtesy of Lighthouse International, a resource to help people overcome vision impairments.
• Store similarly shaped containers like bug spray and hairspray in separate locations to avoid injury. To distinguish the containers, use large print labels or markers like rubber bands or shapes from sandpaper. This will enable the individual to recognize the container by touch.
• Use contrasting colors when assisting with food preparation to help identify oven mitts, dish towels and utensils. Use light-colored items if you have dark counters or dark-colored items on light counters. Many people with a visual impairment can distinguish light colors from dark ones.
• When dining with someone who has a visual impairment, describe the location of the food by using clock numbers as reference points, such as fish at 12 o’clock or potatoes at 3 o’clock.
• A doorknob can easily be marked with a piece of yarn, tape or a rubber band to help the individual identify a room or apartment door easily.
• Be courteous when approaching a visually impaired person on the street. Do not speak to him or her loudly — he or she doesn’t have a hearing problem. Do not pet or play with a guide dog while the dog is working. You might distract the dog and encourage improper behavior.
• If an impaired individual needs assistance crossing the street, offer your arm; do not push him or her in front of you. Rather, let him or her follow slightly behind you so that your movements can be anticipated.
Someone who is restricted to a wheelchair, has trouble walking or has another mobility difficulty may need assistance at times. Although advancements have been made to provide facilities that are accessible to individuals who have these impairments, no situation is foolproof.
Enhance a mobility impaired person’s independence by doing the following:
• Befriend them. Don’t pity or treat them any differently from your other friends.
• Try to make objects around the house more accessible to them. Can tables be lowered or obstacles removed to make wheelchair access easier? Can you build a ramp or move items that are placed too high to a more accessible location?
• Offer to take them on a trip. Sometimes a road trip or a change of scenery can be helpful.
• Talk to this individual to see if he or she has any special requests that can improve his or her independence.
• Don’t do everything for this person. Sometimes the best independence is allowing the person to manage himself, and being available when assistance is needed.