Making Christmas accessible for people with vision impairments

During the festive period, children with vision impairments can face several barriers that can cause them and their loved ones feelings of exclusion and isolation.

Following its successful launch of the UK’s first inclusive Christmas grotto, charity Guide Dogs has shared some advice on how to make grottos more accessible for people with vision impairments.

Guide Dogs helps people with sight loss from the day they are born and uses guide dogs to help blind and partially blind people.

Here are five tips on how to make the festive season more accessible for all those who celebrate:

1.  Introduce yourself

Have you ever thought about how you would approach someone with a vision impairment and how you would offer your support? Simply introducing yourself and asking if the person would like any assistance is the first step. It’s important to ask the person if they need help first – never sneak up on them, grab them or assume they need help without checking. If the person declines your offer, that’s fine – at least you’ve offered.

 Also, when you’re moving away from the person, be sure to let them know you’re leaving them.

2. Describe key elements in the surroundings

To bring the festive scene alive, try to be as descriptive as you can – point out key things in their surroundings and describe them using examples that don’t rely on sight. Is the snow cold and crispy? Can you smell pine needles in the air? Is Rudolph’s fur soft and warm?

3. Use all the senses

Just because someone can’t see the surroundings well doesn’t mean they can’t enjoy Christmas through their other senses. They can still enjoy the smell of gingerbread, the sound of carols, or cold snow crunching under their feet. 

Get creative and think about how you can help people experience your grotto using all their senses.

 Also, think about how you can use bright colours and tonal contrast. Good colour contrast can help people with some residual vision make things out more easily – Christmas lends itself well to this as red and white have a good contrast!

 Be aware that stimulating the senses too much can be overwhelming and cause disorientation for someone with a vision impairment. Try to use soft, consistent lighting and avoid strong glare or flashing lights. Similarly, make sure your background noise isn’t too loud or distracting.

4. Keep clear of clutter

Christmas grottos are often busy venues full of exciting things like trees, presents and even Santa’s sleigh. Plus, streets and shops tend to be much busier over the festive period with things moved around from their usual position and more clutter.

Be aware that obstacles like these could pose a hazard or make it more difficult and stressful for someone with sight loss to navigate around the venue safely and independently. When planning your event, think about how you can keep walkways clear for people with vision impairment. And, wherever possible, make sure there is plenty of space for someone to navigate with a guide dog, long cane or their sighted guide.

 You could also consider the use of contrasting textured flooring to help the people with vision impairments navigate their way around (e.g. smoother flooring on walkways and rougher surfaces such as fake snow for surroundings).

5.  Suitable presents

One of the most exciting parts of visiting a grotto is the presents – but if the gift is something that relies on sight, it can be disappointing for a child with a vision impairment. Things like colouring books, etch-a-sketch and rubix cubes aren’t great options for a children with vision impairments. Instead, think about toys they don’t need their sight to enjoy, such as a teddy bear, large print or tactile colouring books, customised short story book, scented pens/pencils or jewellery.

This festive period, Guide Dogs encouraging members of the public to sign up to our Guiding Stars campaign. This introduction to sighted guiding will help to give you the skills and confidence to guide a person with sight loss if they need it. For more information, click here.

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