You have seen blind people before and wondered how or what you should or can do to help? As a blind person, I am often asked; “What is the best way of approaching a blind person?” and “What is the best way of asking a blind person if he or she needs help?”
What you should do when you see a blind person?
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. 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 happen to travel in a wheelchair feel free to inform them you are in a wheelchair then 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.
I am 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 will recognize someone is nearby. Without information from you, the blind person has to make a best guess on how to proceed. The best method is simply to interact and then pass.
Remember blindness does not mean, “Needs help.” A blind person does not always need help. However, an impolite response from a blind person to the person offering help is never appropriate. My rule of thumb is always accepting the offer politely and then let the person know if you do or do not need assistance. Rudeness is never a proper response.
What a sighted person needs to know before offering help:
A sighted person offering assistance needs an understanding of how to help before offering. If you have never guided a blind person inside or outside an area, you can cause more damage than help. I have experienced help from a sighted guide who did not inform me of upcoming stairs and almost fell pulling the guide with me. Doorways become uneasy areas for a blind person because you never know if the sighted guide is holding the door open waiting for you to enter or if the guide enters but expects you to catch the door before you enter. I have experienced doors closing on me many times because the guide expected me to catch the door.
Sighted guide and blind person:
The sighted guide offering help needs good communication skills especially for giving directions. The blind person must inform a sighted guide how he or she wishes to receive help. Most blind people prefer the Elbow Guide technique and should know how to teach a sighted person the technique. Both the sighted guide and blind person should feel comfortable before proceeding.
Observation is the key for a sighted person to offer help.
Observe the blind person watching for signs of confusion, uneasiness moving around or frequently stopping to listen before offering help. Help is appreciated when inside unfamiliar stores or buildings. A blind person familiar with a building will have landmarks they use as a guide helping them easily move about the building.
Pay attention to the body language, emotional state, facial expressions and confidence moving of the blind person. If the person seems lost, confused, frustrated or stressed the blind person usually needs and would appreciate help.
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.