People who are blind are people first. People with blindness often feel isolated, so your willingness to engage them in conversation will be a mutually rewarding experience. All of our graduates are fascinating people with beautiful stories to tell. Take the time to learn about them; you’ll be glad you did.
When Speaking to a Person Who is Blind
- Identify yourself, especially when entering a room.
Don’t say, “Do you know who this is?”
- Touch the individual on the arm or use their name when addressing them. This lets them know you are speaking to them, not someone else in the room. When exiting, be sure to mention that you are leaving.
- Speak directly to the individual. Do not speak through a companion; they can speak for themselves.
- Don’t shout when you speak; they can’t see but often have fine hearing.
- Give specific directions like, “the desk is five feet to your right,” instead of saying, “the desk is over there.”
- Leave doors open or closed—half-open doors or cupboards are dangerous. And more often than not, moving chairs or other objects around – especially in a familiar environment – winds up being more confusing than helpful.
- Be considerate. If you notice a spot or stain on someone’s clothing, tell them privately (just as you would like to be told).
- Give a clear word picture when describing things to an individual with a visual impairment. Include details such as colour, texture, shape and landmarks.
- Don’t be afraid to use words like “blind” or “see.” Their eyes may not work, but it is still “nice to see you.”
- Be sensitive when questioning someone about their blindness. This is personal information, and boundaries should be respected.
If You Encounter a Blind Person with a Guide Dog
- Do not pet or distract a Guide Dog while wearing a harness. They are not pets. Distracting a guide dog while working can endanger the life of a person with blindness.
- If the dog is not “working,” ask permission before you pet them. Don’t pat the dog on the head or pull its ears; stroke the dog gently on the shoulder area.
- Don’t offer food or drink to a Guide Dog. Guide Dog owners must carefully monitor food and liquid intake, so they know when to allow the dog to relieve itself.
- Do not allow your dog, while on a leash, to interact with a guide dog – again, a person who is blind depends on their dog to guide them safely
If You See a Person who is Blind and Seems to Need Assistance
- Introduce yourself and ask the person if they need assistance.
- Assist if it is requested.
- Respect the wishes of the person who is blind.
- Don’t insist upon trying to help if your offer of assistance is declined.
If a Person who is Blind Asks You for Directions
- Use words such as “straight ahead,” “turn left,” and “on your right,” or use phrases such as “go approximately 5 feet then turn left and go another 10 feet”.
- Do not point and say “go that way” or “it’s over there.”
- Ask, “Would you like me to guide you?” Offering your elbow is an effective and dignified way to lead someone who is blind. Do not be afraid to identify yourself as an inexperienced sighted guide and ask for tips on how to improve. Audible cues, such as a tap or pat on an object (such as a chair or doorway), are an excellent technique for showing their location. Commenting, ‘Here’s the chair,’ while tapping on it helps the individual to locate it quickly.
If You Are Asked to Guide a Person who is Blind
- Allow the person you are guiding to hold your arm and follow as you walk.
- Move your guiding arm behind your back when approaching a narrow space so the person you are guiding can step behind you and follow single-file.
- Hesitate briefly at a curb or the beginning of a flight of stairs and tell them why you are doing so.
- Tell the person you are guiding whether the steps go up or down before proceeding.
- Don’t attempt to grab or steer the person while the dog is guiding him or try to hold the dog’s harness.
- Do not give commands to the dog; allow the handler to do so.
In a Restaurant
- Give clear directions to available seats. Your offer to read the menu aloud may be appreciated, but you shouldn’t assume they cannot order food independently.
- Offer a visual description of items on a table: ketchup bottle, water glasses, salt and pepper shakers, etc. You can describe the location of things by using clock positions: “Your coffee is at 3 o’clock”; “The sugar is at 1 o’clock.”
If a Person who is Blind Visits Your Home with His/Her Guide Dog
- Don’t give a Guide Dog table scraps. Please respect the handler’s need to provide the dog with a balanced diet and maintain good habits.
- Don’t allow children to tease or abuse the dog.
- Don’t allow the dog on your furniture or in areas of the home mutually agreed upon by the family and handler. Ask the handler to correct any errant behaviour or trespassing.
- Don’t let the dog out of the house unsupervised. Please understand its value to the handler.
How Can I Help?
We provide our Guide Dogs Free of Charge to our blind or visually impaired clients. This is only possible because of the support we receive from people like you. We are a small non-profit that makes a huge difference, but we need your help to spread the word.