Study reveals how veterinary practices can better serve blind, partially sighted clients

A study recently published in the Journal of the British Veterinary Association may prompt veterinary practices to re-evaluate how accessible they are to visually impaired clients who bring their guide dogs in for care.

The study was conducted in the U.K., where researchers estimated that there are about 5,000 guide dogs currently helping visually impaired adults and children.

The steadily growing use of guide dogs highlights the importance of veterinary practices ensuring that they are fully prepared to accommodate owners, researchers said.

"With the increase in the number of working dogs and their routine veterinary consultations occurring every six months, it is increasingly likely that many veterinary practices will have blind and partially sighted owners among their clients," study authors wrote.

Guide dog owners often unsatisfied with accessibility to medical care

Approximately 60 percent of guide dog owners in the U.K. are completely blind or have severe visual impairment, and the remainder have varying degrees of residual vision, study authors reported.

But while the number of visually impaired people working with guide dogs is growing, researchers said not enough veterinary practices are adapting to meet their needs.

After reviewing information from previous studies that surveyed guide dog owners about their experiences with both human health care providers and veterinary practices, researchers found that:

  • More than two-thirds of blind and partially sighted people feel that their own general practitioner is not fully aware of their needs, especially regarding physical assistance and staff awareness.
  • Most blind and partially sighted persons said they receive no information from their general practitioner in a useful format such as large print or email.
  • Thirty-three percent of people with visual impairment surveyed said they had difficulty accessing medical facilities occasionally, frequently, or always.
  • Thirty-six percent said they leave without achieving the objectives of their visit occasionally, frequently, or always.

In-depth advice for practices to better serve guide dog owners

According to the study authors, "... a little extra time, effort, and communication can enhance the visit of a blind or partially sighted owner to veterinary practices."

Using insights from previous studies as well as input from guide dog owners, they spend the rest of their article covering important aspects such as improving interactions in the reception area, properly dispensing drugs to guide dog owners, and providing information to guide dog owners in useful formats.

In one excerpt from the lengthy article, authors detail ways for veterinary professionals to improve interactions in the consulting room, including:

  • Have normal expectations of the clinical history that the client can provide.
  • Be aware of non-verbal communication that might be second nature; speak more than normal and describe procedures that are being undertaken.
  • Offer to demonstrate on the dog or use models that the client can feel.
  • Make sure the consultation environment is sufficiently empowering to enable the client to ask the questions they would like to ask; recognize that their disability is solely an inability to see.

Read the full article

Veterinary practices can read the entire published study for free online at the Journal of the British Veterinary Association.