Eyes for the Blind

A closeup view of a woman guiding a woman who is blind
Individuals with visual impairment are quite often able to find their way on their own using their other senses and aids such as white canes. However, having a sighted guide can be preferable, especially in unknown territory. While it isn’t polite to force assistance on someone you perceive to be blind, humbly offering your services may provide you an opportunity to help. But it isn’t enough to just pull the person behind you as if they were a child; special precautions need to be taken in order to safeguard the individual.

In order to first make contact, let the visually impaired person know who you are and ask them if assistance is needed. If your offer is accepted, extend your arm to touch the blind person’s hand and say, “Please take my arm.” Allow the blind individual to grip your arm just above the elbow. You can guide with either the right or left arm, which can either hang straight at your side or bend at the elbow.

As the sighted guide, you should be about a half step ahead of the visually impaired person. This is a comfortable distance for conversation, yet assures that you encounter obstacles first and allows the blind person time to react to the movement of your arm.

Walk at a rate comfortable for both of you and appropriate for the situation and place. When approaching a narrow place, alert the visually impaired person, then swing the arm the blind person is holding to behind your back so the two of you are walking single file.

When approaching stairs, inform the visually impaired individual. Note whether the stairs go up or down and if there is a railing. Have the blind person switch to the side that is closest to the railing. Describe the stairs, noting distinctive features such as steep, shallow, narrow, broad, curved, stone or brick. You as guide make the first step with the person being guided following one step behind. Tell the blind person when you are at a landing and when you have reached the top or bottom of the flight of stairs.

When approaching doors, let the visually impaired person know whether it swings away from you or toward you. Indicate if the blind person should catch the swinging door on the left or right. As you approach the door, the side with the hinges is the side on which to catch it. Have the blind person switch to the side that is closest to the hinge-side of the door and open the door with the opposite arm, pushing or pulling the door open across your body.

To help a visually impaired individual sit, bring them into contact with the chair or seat while telling them about the part of the chair being touched (back, front or arm). Describe it as a sofa, stool, swivel chair, rocker, etc. Allow the blind person to seat him or herself.

To reverse your direction, simply turn around, maintaining the same grip and body position. The person you are guiding will follow the movement of your arm.

As you guide, always tell the person you are guiding if you are going to leave, even briefly, and put him or her in touch with something such as a piece of furniture or the wall. Avoid leaving a blind person alone in space.

Consistent use of these techniques is one way to make living in the community easier and safer for individuals who are blind.

Source: Clovernook Center, Cincinnati, Ohio

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