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How should I communicate on a dive with a visually-impaired adaptive diver?

When communicating with a visually-impaired diver on a dive, keep the following in mind:
  • Visual references: A visually-impaired individual’s references are based on visual experiences; therefore someone who is born blind will not have the same references of color, distance or depth of field that someone who has become blind subsequent to birth and had some period of experience with unimpaired vision.
  • Permission: As with any person who has a disability, the guide or buddy should ask him or her how they would like to be guided or how they would like to transfer from one point to another. Any encroachment of personal space (as in guiding, redirecting or transferring the individual, especially where touching is involved) should first be cleared with the individual with the disability so that everyone is on the same page and in agreement.
  • Hand placement: It is very important when you are diving with someone who is visually-impaired that you stay in tactile contact with that person. By doing so, the adaptive diver will feel secure that his or her buddy is close by and available for hand signal communications.
While diving, it is not uncommon for a visually-impaired diver to bring his or her left hand into contact with an item he or she is handling with the right hand -- even though that item may be hazardous to touch. It is important for you to communicate prior to the dive that when you bring the right hand (the control hand) in contact with an object that he or she not also bring the left hand over to feel the object, as it may not in fact be safe. You may be guiding the adaptive diver to a safe spot but he or she might accidentally touch something that isn’t safe.

Communication under water among divers is critical to a safe diving experience. When diving with a visually-impaired diver, the challenge of communicating clearly is heightened for both parties. The answer is a standardized system of tactile (touch) signals that have specific definitions. These tactile signals allow the adaptive dive buddy and the visually-impaired diver to convey to each other the information that must be communicated between divers.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.