What to do when meeting a blind person
Many people do not know how to act or what to do when meeting or confronted by a blind person. Some advice for those seeking it.
When You Meet a Blind Person…
Every individual has a unique personality and therefore reacts in a unique way to blindness or visual impairment.
Visually impaired people, whether they are totally blind or have some degree of useful vision may, at times, require the assistance of a sighted guide. For the sake of simplicity, the term "blind person" is used in this booklet to refer to the person who is being guided, whether totally blind or partially sighted.
How do I make contact with a blind person?
When approaching a blind person, initiate the greeting using a normal tone of voice. Identify yourself and then inquire if your assistance is desired. If so, touch your hand to the back of their hand as a signal or them to take your arm.
How do I help a blind person cross the street?
Avoid pulling blind people by the hand or tugging at their sleeves. It is awkward and confusing. Simply offer your assistance and they will tell you the best way to guide them. Let them know when you are coming to a curb and whether you will be stepping up or down.
How can I help a blind person feel more comfortable in an unfamiliar setting?
It is very helpful and important to describe the surroundings to blind or visually impaired people. For example, you can describe the layout of a room, whether it is square or narrow, how many tables and chairs there are and how they are arranged. The same principle applies when travelling with blind or visually impaired people. Describe the landscape, tell them which direction you are travelling (north, south, etc.), mention the names of towns you pass by. Just remember to give directions clearly and accurately. Pointing or using phrases such as "over there" will be of no assistance.
When you meet a blind or visually impaired person, the key word is "person", not "blind". Don't hesitate to use the words "see", "look" or "read". Remember that blind and visually impaired people are individuals first. They do the same things as you, but sometimes use different techniques.
What do I do if we come to a doorway?
You should tell the blind person when they are approaching a door and in which direction the door opens. For example, the guide would say "the door opens to the left and towards us". In this case, the blind person would then free their left hand in order to hold the door and to close it, as may be required.
Once contact is made with the door, it is the blind person's responsibility to hold the door open until the doorway has been cleared and to close it as necessary.
Okay, what about stairs?
Alert the blind person verbally when they are to walk up or down stairs. Stairs are approached squarely, never at an angle. If necessary, they switch to the side with the handrail.
Come to a full stop before the stairs. The blind person takes hold of the handrail (when available) and finds the first step by siding one foot forward until the edge of the step is detected, steps down (or up) one step and both proceed together in rhythm, the guide always one step ahead.
Stop at the end of the stairs and also verbalize "last step" to the blind person.
How do I help a blind person take a seat?
When approaching a chair from the front, bring the blind person in contact with the front of the chair so that the knees lightly touch the seat. Inform them what type of chair it is, e.g. arm chair, bench, rocker, etc.
Additional tips for guides
Push chairs into table when vacating them
Keep doors entirely opened or closed
Keep cupboard doors closed
When approaching any irregularities in the terrain, alert the blind person in advance, e.g. stepping from concrete to grass, concrete to gravel, etc.
Blind travellers with guide dogs may not require physical assistance; they may choose to follow a guide or receive directions. If they do request to take the guide's arm, the blind person will drop the dog's harness, maintain leash control with one hand and have the other hand free to grip the guide's arm.
Remember to let blind or visually impaired people know you are leaving and if possible, ensure that the blind person is left in contact with a tangible object in the environment, e.g. a wall, a table, a chair. This will eliminate the uncomfortable feeling of standing alone in an open space and not having a reference point.
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Robin kettle access auditor and disability awareness trainer www.blue-badge.co.uk