White man with dark hair hanging into his eyes, wearing an orange scarf around his neck, stands reading into mic, with group wearing same scarves behind him.

Before the training day we wanted to get all the 30 participants thinking specifically about how they function in social situations. Below the differences between the visually impaired and sighted participants experience can be compared.

A. Initially the 15 visually impaired participants were asked:

  1. How do you normally negotiate social gatherings like parties or networking events?
    • “Sometimes I would avoid them, if I'm not feeling very confident. Sometimes I might take a support worker with me”
    • “Listen to the sound around me for voices I might recognize. Ask people to guide me to others. Find a place to sit and receive. Go with someone I trust.”
    • “If I'm alone, I walk in, try to listen for a voice I know. If I hear one, I'll call out the respective name, or walk in that direction and hope they will make contact with me if they happen to see me. If I can't hear a voice I know and no one is coming up to me, I'll stand for a while, then try to find somewhere to sit, or a wall to lean against, or get out my phone and occupy myself with that until something happens, which it usually does.”
    • “I try to take some one with me or arrange to meet up with some one there.”
    • “If such events are on unfamiliar territory, I find them intimidating. I would be extremely reluctant to attend such an event without an accompanying colleague/friend.”
    • “By using as much non-visual sensory data as I can, plus the appropriate asking of relevant questions.”
    • “Occasionally with confidence, mostly with self-consciousness, a feeling of isolation building to frustration and resentment.”
    • “It depends on how light and loud the gatherings are. Loud music can disorientate me further due to my hearing impairment. I tend to usually stay in the same place in these sorts of things. If at networking or conferences, find it hard as can't read name badges. So just have to go for it and ask people who they are etc. If there are lots of people this can be very unnerving and stressful.”
    • “I try to go with a sighted person, although, this is often not possible. Alternatively, I don't bother going to parties and network events.”
    • “If I'm on my own I usually just start talking to people who are in my direct vicinity. Also, I've found that once people discover that I'm blind they actually approach me. My guide dog is an obvious symbol of my disability.”
    • “I'd use the mobile to get one of my football cronies out of the bar or ask them where within they are. As I don't see colours, they're no point in telling me to look for “the blue shirt”. AS I don't see well in bright light or sunlight, I try to avoid meeting folks outside, opting for somewhere darker initially.”
    • “I find parties very difficult often because they are dark and noisy and so my two major senses of hearing and what I have of my sight are wiped out. I find it very hard to identify people and often if I lose the people I am with I can't find them again.”
  2. If you are on your own, how pro-active are you in moving around such gatherings to find people who you want to speak to, or finding the bar, toilet etc?
    • “It would depend on my mood. Sometimes I am quite proactive sometimes not quite so much. It would probably depend on how crowded the room is.”
    • “If I know other people at the party I can be proactive. Ask for assistance. It depends on how well I know the others. It's not great if it's more of a work event.”
    • “I try to gauge a near by conversation, to see if they are approachable, then ask some one. Once I am able to get to a bar or a member of staff I try to get a lay out in my head by finding out the lay out of the place.”
    • “Bars and toilets I can find, albeit a hassle. I wouldn't even think of trying to find other people – let them find me. (Assuming the “other people” are sighted, of course).”
    • “The more I can find out about the lay out of the place the easier it is to understand where I am but not to get bogged down with things like the colour of a picture!! That doesn't help much. As for finding people at a party some idea of what to tell other people what to look for does help.”
    • “Again dependent on variables such s my own mood, but often I can feel sort of paralysed, being reluctant to be proactive. Finding the bar is the easiest: everyone understands the need to get a drink to justify your presence and the bar can often be the easiest to locate for noise reasons. Toilets are a fait accomplish, as your bladder can be a persuasive driving force. Most difficult is locating people to talk to: mostly I'm not very proactive.”
    • “Depends on environment, if I'm familiar with the environment I'll feel more confident about moving around as have an understanding or where everything is. If the lighting is good I can find people, but not easy to locate people I know. If the lighting is bad, I do need to ask bar staff where toilets are to get directions and often need to ask for assistance to find them.
    • “If no one comes over to me for a long while after I have arrived and I don't know anyone, I tend to stay quite static and start to feel my confidence diminishing and my self consciousness rise rapidly, which makes me feel very uncomfortable and wish I hadn't come.”
    • “The bar is not that difficult because I can usually here where it is because of the sound of the glasses. Moving away from the bar with a full glass is another matter I usually get the drink down me or someone else. I find it very difficult to find a person at a social event. I could ask people there, but most of them probably don't know the person I am after (and I can't give a visual description).”
    • “If in a dark party, I'd rather sit down and have people come to me or leave.”
  3. Would information about: Who was present at such gatherings, Where about they were, Who they were talking to, What they looked like, What the layout or decor of the venue was, help you at all?
    • “Yes. I think it would help to have layout info so I can get a mental map in my head. Good to know who will be there. If networking then knowing what others wear helps to identify them when asking support worker or others to locate them for me.”
    • “If I knew who was present, that would be a good start! But no, as far as I'm concerned, if other people have sight, it's up to them to find me. All sighted people I know concur with this – its just common sense. A gathering of predominantly blind people is quite another matter of course: in this case I would be far more proactive in finding people. I'm not shy about shouting out names in such a situation.”
    • “Well yes to all except to the layout and décor which would be clear to me. I tend to have a slight problem picking my friend or contact out in a crowd. I guess such information would be like a sort of surety if I had it and I would think I'd be able to move around with a greater degree of confidence.”
    • “To a limited degree yes. But the problem is that people are going to move about so if I know who the first group of people are that I'm talking to then that is fine but by the time I want to move to the next group of people, they may have dispersed so the information would have to be ongoing, not just a one off. Also people take off jackets which means the colour of the clothes they wear change. Layout of décor is always very helpful though.”
    • “All the above information I would find invaluable. For even if I am with a support worker they often do not know who I need to speak to. Also it gives me an idea of how I compare in dress to others at the event.”
    • “In principal, yes. So long as it didn't go into overload, all of that could well be useful.”

B. The 15 sighted describers were asked:

  1. When entering a social gathering of some kind, generally what are the first three things that you do?
    • “See if I can locate the host/hostess – Get the lie of the land – whether there's food, where the bar is – Look for people I know”
    • “Generally speaking, I'd locate the host of the gathering and make myself present / I'd locate other people I know or recognise in attendance / I'd find somewhere to leave my things, get a drink, make myself comfortable in that particular setting.”
    • *Most of the describers answered similarly as the above two comments, however others added…:
    • “Thinking about this really made me think about how much I use sight in a social gathering, particularly when seeking out people to talk to and to move between groups. When I attend parties or openings with VI friends I do notice that people's independence can be compromised if they party set up means they have to be dependent on other guests to mingle. I do also notice when I go to a social gathering with VI friends how much I use my sight in a noisy environment. I think if you can see someone's lips in a very noisy environment you naturally start lip reading to a certain extent to help you follow conversations – I notice myself doing this and know that some of my VI friends can find very noisy environments more difficult.”
    • “Get an alcoholic drink… 2) Attack the buffet… 3) Check out the talent and get sent-off.”
  2. If you see someone on the other side of the room who you know and that you want to speak to, what do you do?
    • “Move towards them, catch their eye if they're looking my way”
    • “Catch their eye, wave and smile and then head towards them. I might also holler depending on who it is!”
    • “Probably first of all watch to see who they are talking to and whether they look like they can be interrupted, then try and catch their eye first before moving over, or if not just move towards them and try and catch their eye as I get closer.”
    • *Most of the describers answered similarly as above, but others added…:
    • “Walk over and say hello, usually trying to avoid being seen so to keep the element of surprise.”
  3. If you want to move away from a conversation with someone, that is no longer interesting you, what do you do?
    • “Flounder some excuse, perhaps get another drink.”
    • “Look at people walking past behind that person, hoping that someone will come over and interrupt us so I can get away. If that doesn't work, I'll make an excuse to leave.”
    • “If I know them well: I say that the conversation is no longer interesting and that I'm fucking off.”

Stay up-to-date, join our mailing list

We only send occasional emails and you can easily unsubscribe. For more information, see our privacy policy