Tips for communicating and providing services for visually impaired people

In March 2016, North, South and Central CCGs (NHS Clinical Commissioners) got in touch with Henshaws as part of their work to engage all groups better. Visually impaired people are often underrepresented in user groups, and Manchester CCGs wanted to find out how they could communicate better and provide better services for visually impaired patients and their families.

Helen Doyle, Henshaws Research & Information Manager, contacted our service users through a focus group and surveys in July and August 2016. With their generous help, Helen put together a report and recommendations on understanding the health needs and well-being of visually impaired and blind people in Manchester.

What were the main findings?

  • Barriers in communication – if someone is not aware of all the information and services available to them, it’s taking away their choice.
  • Environmental barriers – hospitals that are not designed with visually impaired people in mind can put people off going to appointments until the health problem worsens.
  • Surrounding circumstances – visually impaired patients that we interviewed often had additional health needs and conditions, as well as lifestyle factors such as isolation and unemployment, that often were not being taken into account by the medical professionals.

"One of the biggest problems I discovered was even just going to the GP or hospital was really difficult for people. The new screen systems are very visual, and it puts people off from going when they need to, which adds another layer of risk.”

Helen Doyle

Why are these findings so important?

Having better knowledge and a proper representation of visually impaired people helps shape understandings and provides a better service for patients. Often the solutions are easy and cost-effective, but they can make such a difference for patients.

One example from the survey was that a hospital was using clear water jugs, which are difficult for visually impaired people to see, and easy to knock over – so the patient was worried about pouring themselves a drink.

By just using coloured jugs or coloured lids, it increases the levels of independence and confidence for the patient staying in hospital – and that’s through something as simple as enabling them to pour themselves a glass of water.

"It's all about raising awareness and changing attitudes really. It means that people are more confident visiting the GP, are healthier and happier, and illnesses can be treated before they become more serious."

Helen Doyle

As well as the report, a key outcome of the project was to provide practical advice and recommendations that could be used to improve services for visually impaired people. We therefore worked with Manchester CCGs to create our top tips which can be used by anyone providing services or communication with blind and visually impaired people:

Top tips for communicating and providing services for people with a VI

  1. Provide information in their preferred accessible format. If you ask someone what their preferred format is, make sure you stick to it every time you contact them.
  2. Speak to the person directly, rather than speaking to someone else with them on their behalf.
  3. Make sure you include people with sight loss in user representation groups, and ensure people with sight loss are consulted when a building is being re-designed or if a system changes.
  4. Visual systems are fine, but make sure there are alternatives. For example, next to touch screen kiosks, make sure there’s a volunteer or member of staff for any support.
  5. Use accurate and specific language eg. when giving directions, tell the person you’re speaking to who you are, use your full name and explain your role in their care, and in a group setting introduce all the people present and explain why they are there.

These findings are being used to shape changes in the Manchester health care sector, to improve access for people with sight loss. For more information on this report, contact Helen on 0300 222 5555 or email

Download our full 'Tips for communicating & providing services for people with sight loss'

Attending hospital appointments is never an easy task; that's why Henshaws Patient Support Officers are here

Our Patient Support Officers provide emotional and practical support on sight loss; including someone to talk to in confidence, support during your appointment, and information on local services. Our volunteer help desk and Patient Support Officers are at MREH five days a week and Altrincham two days a week.

To arrange an appointment or find out more about this free service, drop-in at the hospital or contact our patient support office on 0161 276 5515.

Log in or register to download
Image of Manchester Royal Eye Hospital CVI

We can't do it without you

Henshaws rely on voluntary donations; our work just wouldn’t be possible without people like you. Your support empowers local people living with sight loss and a range of other disabilities to increase their independence, achieve their dreams, and go beyond expectations.

Donate now

Sarah is the Marketing Manager with responsibility for Community Services across Greater Manchester, and the Knowledge Village.
More blogs like this