AHA Disparities Toolkit - Visually Impaired Populations

Individuals who are blind or visually impaired present unique health communications needs as they seek to access and act upon health information. Because critical medical information is communicated at many points throughout a health care encounter, it is important that information on communication needs be collected at the earliest point possible, such as at patient registration/admission to a hospital or during registration. These include, but are not limited to, the following:

  • Discussing a patient's symptoms and medical condition, medications, and medical history
  • Explaining and describing medical conditions, tests, treatment options, medications, surgery, and other procedures
  • Providing a diagnosis, prognosis, and recommendation for treatment
  • Obtaining informed consent for treatment
  • Communicating with a patient during treatment , testing procedures, and during physician's rounds
  • Providing instructions for medications, post-treatment activities, and follow-up treatments
  • Providing mental health services, including group or individual therapy, or counseling for patients and family members
  • Providing information about blood or organ donations
  • Explaining living wills and powers of attorney
  • Discussing complex billing or insurance matters
  • Making educational presentations, such as birthing and new parent classes, nutrition and weight management counseling, and CPR and first aid training

The following are auxiliary aids and services:

  • Qualified readers
  • Taped texts
  • Audio recordings
  • Braille materials
  • Large-print materials or other methods of making visually delivered materials available to individuals with visual impairments

Blind or visually impaired persons may have difficulty accessing written instructions, informed consent, and other documents, or even prescription medication labels. However, the obstacles presented by vision impairment can vary significantly among patients, as do individuals' personal responses to vision loss. As such, each patient should be asked about the kinds of assistance that he or she requires in order to actively participate in the care process. The delivery of health care should then be tailored to meet the patient's individual needs.

In addition to personalizing the care of vision impaired patients, providers are encouraged to undertake a self-evaluation regarding the accessibility of their environment. This may include the removal of potential physical barriers, ensuring that the physical environment conforms to ADAAG standards and the provision of accessible signage.