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How to handle a sidewalk encounter with the blind

You exit a store turn, and start down the sidewalk and see a blind person approaching using a white cane, what should you do?

You should do the same thing you would do when you see sighted people. Say, “Hello” and walk on unless asked for your assistance. You should not try to silently slip past the blind person or try to avoid interaction with a blind person. A blind person traveling with a white cane uses a shore lining technique as a guide to transverse the sidewalk. A blind person slides the white cane back and forth in front of them and on small sidewalks may touch both sides of the sidewalk as he/she walks making a safe pass difficult. You should greet the blind person a few steps before coming up to pass him or her.

Greeting the blind person early provides him or her time to make room for you to pass. If you travel in a wheelchair, informing the blind person early of your situation allows the blind person the opportunity to do what is necessary for you to pass. A blind person will gladly stop and step off the sidewalk, allow you to pass then proceed. The important part is the greeting. If you try to remain silent and avoid interaction the blind person may sense someone is near and stop, waiting for more sensory information before proceeding. Avoiding interaction with a blind person means the blind person must make a decision of what to do next without important information that you can provide by simply greeting the blind person. As soon as the blind person knows someone is in front of him or her, the blind person realizes what to do. The blind person will normally stop and allow you to pass or adjust the movements of the white cane allowing you to pass safely.

I am very sensitive to others around me and usually know when someone is near using several techniques. A blind person senses others by noise, smells, body movements and sounds. If you wear cologne, the scent travels ahead especially if the wind is blowing. If you smoke cigarettes the scent of the smoke is very strong, if you breathe heavily, have jewelry that clinks, or items in your pocket make noise a blind person knows someone is close to him or her. Without information from you, the blind person has to make a best guess on how to proceed. A blind person depends heavily on verbal interaction and when a sighted person does not communicate with a blind person then, the blind person can become confused, develop a feeling of what is this person trying to do and become fearful of what will happen next. The best method is simply to interact using verbal information providing directions that makes a sidewalk pass safe and simple for all involved.

Improving the relationship between the sighted and visually impaired is the objective of this article. Please feel free to make comments, offer advice or ask questions by e-mailing me or by participating in the Vision Issues forum. I appreciate any input.

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