If you are blind, you are used to getting around on your own. You have your preferences and your strategies. You may have a service animal, cane, or other mobility devices that help you detect obstacles. Chances are, you’ve got the situation down pat.
But sometimes when you offer to take a walk with your friends or family, they may seem unsure of how to behave. Do they offer support? Do they not offer support? Are they supposed to walk behind or in front? This article will help you share some of the best things to do when walking with someone who is blind. You can tell them which of these tips work best for you.
Ok, friends and family. The rest of this article is for you.
Ask before you assist. Not everyone who is blind needs help navigating their environment. That said, it’s possible that anyone could need help from time to time. If it appears someone who is blind is facing a bit of an obstacle, offering to help (in a respectful way) is fine. If the person declines your assistance, then just accept that with a pleasant “ok.”
If you think your walking companion might appreciate you describing the scenery, once again, ask before you jump right into a full narrative account. Some people find it interesting while others find it annoying. Just like some people prefer small talk while others don’t mind sitting in silence, people who are blind may find the extra conversation either enriching or distracting.
If you need to give verbal directions, keep in mind that the person you are speaking to is blind. Don’t say, “You’ll need to stop in just a little bit.” Or, “Our restaurant is over there.” Be specific and use exact descriptions. “The museum is three blocks up and on the left.”
Assuming your friend has indicated they need some help, what is the best way to guide them? Being overprotective and overly hands-on is annoying. Don’t grab a blind person’s arm. They will most likely want to be the one holding your arm, just above the elbow. Help them find you by touching their arm or hand and then allowing them to reach out to you.
Remember, you’re going to lead, but not by much. You should start the walk forward, but not too quickly. Your friend will want to stay about a half a step behind you and slightly to the right or left. Occasionally check to make sure you’re not walking to fast. And be aware of obstacles on the side that your friend is on.
If you need to switch sides or walk single file through a narrow space, first verbally alert the person who is blind, then stop walking. Take a moment to adjust your positioning. If you need to go through a narrow space, you can put your guiding elbow farther behind your back and walk directly in front of your friend. If you need to switch sides, first cross in front of your companion. Then assist them in finding your opposite elbow before beginning to walk again.
When navigating obstacles, use your words. Don’t snatch your friend out of harm’s way like you’re in a dramatic movie scene. Be alert enough to notice obstacles in advance and verbally warn them about what’s coming up. If there’s an emergency, like a speeding car, shouting “Stop!” should be sufficient for getting their attention.
Take extra precautions when going through doors, up and down curbs or stairs, or around rough terrain. A verbal description of the area is usually sufficient, but sometimes you may have to stop and allow them to reorient to the environment before moving forward again.
When helping a blind person get into an unfamiliar car, it can help to reach inside and put your arm on the roof. This gives them something to hold onto and feel so they can judge the size and avoid hitting their head. But you should let them close their own door.
These are just a few tips on how to walk with someone who is blind. Every person is going to have their personal preferences. What’s most important is that you communicate well and let your friend decide what kind of help is best for them.
If you use a cane or a guide dog and want a little more help with detecting obstacles, ILA has a variety of products, like the BuzzClip Mobility Guide, that can give you a better sense of the space you’re in.