How to help a blind person organize.
June 20, 2013 5:35 PM   Subscribe

I'll be helping a blind person organize his personal items this summer. How can I help him organize things (and avoid offending him)?

I have zero experience working with blind people, so I have two questions:
1) How can I help a blind man organize his personal things? Do people without vision organize by texture? By size? By the type of item? By some other characteristic? This gentleman is very poor and cannot afford shelving or additional furniture with drawers. I will be helping him to discard unneeded items, and I will place items he chooses to keep into piles, I suppose.
2) He lost his vision last year due to macular degeneration. Are certain phrases offensive to blind people? Is the word "blind" offensive? Are blind people called "sight impaired"? Honestly, I don't know. I would like to be as sensitive and knowledgeable as possible.
posted by Triumphant Muzak to Grab Bag (15 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
The answer to both questions is "It varies from person to person. Ask him."
posted by Etrigan at 5:49 PM on June 20, 2013 [2 favorites]

I agree with 'Ask him' -- but -- it shouldn't be too hard to come up with some second-hand shelving and/or drawers.

Put out freecycle requests, check the Craigslist free section, ask all your friends, ask on Twitter/Facebook; if you are doing the assisting through an agency ask the agency to help source furniture or ask for permission to invoke their name when approaching thrift stores; some give items for free if it's going to a charity/charitable purpose. Approach any local organisation for the blind, ask if there's a way you can get $20 to spend on dollar store plastic bins. Finding a bit of basic furniture for somebody in need should not be too demanding a task.
posted by kmennie at 6:00 PM on June 20, 2013 [2 favorites]

Be genuine. Each person is different. My cousin lost her sight as an adult but you could ask her exactly any question on your mind and she'd answer.

Use a clock as a reference. "I'm putting your mail here at twelve, your change jar at three and your cell phone at six.

Ask him what he wants to accomplish. Ask him if he's familiar with any particular methods. He may have ideas you can help him implement.

To my knowledge, the word blind isn't offensive. If he has a guide dog, if the harness is on, the dog is working, wait until you get the okay to give the doggie love.

My cousin's dog was my running buddy when I was a baby. We loved each other and we'd share food. But if the harness was on, Julie was working and fun would have to wait.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 6:03 PM on June 20, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: There is a book called "long time no see" by Beth Finke, a woman who went blind in her early 20s due to diabetes complications. The book is mostly about her life, but she has seversl chapters about her home life (married to a sighted man) and how they organize things. Might be a good supplement to other ideas here.
posted by holyrood at 6:14 PM on June 20, 2013

Agree to reach out to various sources to get basic furniture and storage containers (and to check if the gentleman you're helping finds them easy to use). If there is an organization for the blind they might be able to provide tools like label makers for braille (if he can read it) and talking color analyzers. Texture is important for identifying clothing, those color analyzers help match clothes. There might be apps for color analysis out there, in case he has a phone that supports apps.
posted by travelwithcats at 6:18 PM on June 20, 2013

Does he read Braille? You can get "Braille tape" and use that to label things.
posted by infinitywaltz at 6:19 PM on June 20, 2013

Nthing the "it's different for every person" - because even a blind person's blindness is different for every person.

My first theater gig ever was with this company, which works with blind and visually-impaired actors. And what surprised me was - there are a lot of different degrees of blindness and visual impairment, everything from the woman who was fine as long as we gave her large print scripts and made sure the lights were bright, to the guy who only had peripheral vision, to the guy who could see colors but not shapes. Only one member of the cast had absolutely no vision. So I went in thinking I was going to have to do all sorts of helping-people-adapt work, but learned that it was totally different for every person what we had to do, and they actually knew how they liked things best and just needed to grab me for help now and then. I think the only "adaptive" thing I did once was reading one actors' cues to him so he could type them out on this cool Braille typewriter thing so he could study his lines at home. (Oh, and I think I once took his seeing-eye dog out to pee when he was rehearsing a scene.)

My point is - I'm recognizing the "am I going to have to do THIS or THAT or how can I Best Help A Blind Person" instinct that I also had going in, and the thing I learned was, they have a pretty good idea already what suits them personally best; so go into this not asking "how can I help a blind person" but "how can I help THIS person". Because the degree of vision they have is only one facet of what makes them who they are.

Good luck.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 6:25 PM on June 20, 2013 [2 favorites]

To clarify: i am totally behind the just ask him advice. I'm just thinking, if he's recently had vision changes, he might not know about all the options for how other have practically handled this. I'd start by asking him, but if the ideas don't work or he doesn't know how to best handle a specific thing, your ideas from commenters here, or from watching videos and reading books, could give you a few suggestions to throw into the ring for him to consider.
posted by holyrood at 6:43 PM on June 20, 2013

If the two of you run out of ideas or across a problem you can't solve, there are organizations that should be able to help. If you're in the US, there is likely a state agency that can point you these organization. You might also try the Hadley School for the Blind if you get stuck. (There are similar places scattered around the country, though not always in every state--people sometimes travel quite a way to go on skills courses. I do know an elderly person with macular degeneration who has done some stuff with Hadley, for whatever that's worth.) Or google "Center for Independent Living". In the UK, you want the RNIB.
posted by hoyland at 7:14 PM on June 20, 2013

I think you'll find that he's a lot less sensitive about it all than you are. Blind people are used to having the sighted be freaked, and have learned to cope. (At least that's been the case with all my blind friends over the years.)

For instance, a lot of people are embarassed when they use "I see" to mean "I understand", and then get all flustered. Don't be. One of my blind friends used that construction deliberately in order to defuse it.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 7:36 PM on June 20, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: My oldest is kind of one of "the sighted blind" and my vision is just crappy these days. Plus my mother is blind in one eye. Some thoughts:

Try to get him to walk you through his routines. Muscle memory and physical placement are big things for the visually impaired. You can use his routines to try to tweak where things are to make his life easier without tripping him up. Put things as close as possible to point of use. Put cups where he can pull one out and promptly pour something instead of walking across the room between the two steps.

I found I could rearrange the apartment as long as the pathing did not change and certain really important things stayed in the same place (like his basket of medication). So if you do move stuff, make sure it does not literally or figuratively trip him up.

I read a story where a blind person organized their paper money by folding different denominations differently. So, yeah, I think texture, etc can be useful. Try to keep things simple. If you have to watch yourself do it to accomplish it, it is probably too complicated for him.

Do not underestimate hearing, smell etc as ways he may be compensating. My oldest son does some pretty uncanny things at times because he pays closer attention to his other senses than most people seem to.
posted by Michele in California at 8:09 PM on June 20, 2013 [1 favorite]

Are certain phrases offensive to blind people? Is the word "blind" offensive? Are blind people called "sight impaired"? Honestly, I don't know. I would like to be as sensitive and knowledgeable as possible.

I did some surveys related to disability recently and learned that the current term is "people who are blind or have low vision."
posted by Snarl Furillo at 8:15 PM on June 20, 2013

I worked with this population at one point and we called them "visually impaired." As already mentioned very rarely does blind mean fully without sight, there is a lot of variation.

I found that always being mindful that although they don't have good vision, they do have other gifts that I don't have, made me more respectful and them more comfortable.
posted by cacao at 8:52 PM on June 20, 2013

I think approaching organization from the other end might be helpful too. "In what situations are you going to need this item?" "How about if we put it here with this related item?" "If you needed this, where would you expect to find it?"
posted by bink at 9:06 PM on June 20, 2013

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