Know someone who’s blind or visually impaired? Want to help?
As a low vision individual, this seemed like a good idea to share. It occurred to me recently that the etiquette of assisting someone with low vision or no vision, may not be “common knowledge.” Seeing how 90% of the population will never actually come in contact with a blind person, knowing how to act or help is not something learned in normal communications.
Here is my thoughts and perspective on how you can help, and actually be helpful, if you encounter a blind person or know one.
1. Stop saying sorry
Yes. Stop it. It’s one of the most honest and pure reactions but hearing “I’m so sorry” on a regular basis does nothing. It doesn’t help and it doesn’t change a damn thing. I’d rather hear, “That really sucks,” than an apology. The truth is, you didn’t do anything wrong, you didn’t cause my blindness, for that reason, you have no need to be sorry.
Now, if you are my sighted guide and walk me off a cliff or into a wall, I’ll take that sorry then.
2. Announce yourself
As a blind person, I have no idea who is around. I have no idea who is or is not in a room until I hear something. If you are sitting in my living room, quietly using your phone, you don’t exist until I hear you or… run into you. When in a public setting, approaching a blind person is easy for you but on this spectrum, I have no idea who you are, where you are or what the heck is going on most of the time. In a public setting, my brain is running on overdrive, attempting to use sound and my small amount of remaining vision to, as I like to say “paint the picture.” I am constantly trying to figure out who is around, where they are and where I am in the space. Even with my wife as a guide, my brain wants to know more about where we are, what it looks like and who’s around.
Announcing yourself is a very helpful way to help a blind person. “It’s Matt” is really all it takes. From those two words, I know where you are in the space and I know who you are. For me, the more I am around people, the name isn’t as important as I know your voice. However, without a sound, I don’t know where you are. Even in my own home, with my own family, I will walk into the house from being outside and not know where my girls are or if they are even around me. That is where the sound comes into play and is very helpful.
In a public setting, business or pleasure, sharing your name first and then approaching would be great. I can’t see name badges at a conference and my vision doesn’t allow me to see faces, I want to talk with you, I just need to know who you are.
3. I am not rude, I don’t see you
Waving at me as you drive by, a nod as I walk by didn’t happen in my world because I can’t see those things. Some individuals in the blind community share that people often think they are stuck up, snooty or rude when they do not say “hi” or acknowledge them. Nope. That is rarely the case, if ever. I simply don’t know who you are and if I THINK I know, I will feel terrible and embarrassed if my assumption is incorrect.
Give me a “Hey Andy, it’s Paul!” and I would be more than happy (and grateful) to share some time with you.
4. Guide me, don’t yank me
If you know a visually impaired person, I am sure they will agree with this. When/ if you ever are the sigted guide to a person with low vision, guide them with compassion, peace and respect. As a blind person, trusting your safety to another is already pretty nerve-racking, put pushing and pulling into it and I’m ready to go home with a quickness. If you are going to help by being a sighted guide, ask the person with low vision how they prefer to be guided. For me, it’s different with different people.
My 8 year old daughter, we hold hands and have created a system where she puts her hand back to stop, puts her hand forward to move, pulls left to move left and right for right. She’ll vocalize anything of danger and as a father, I’ll never get tired of holding her hand so it works well.
My wife and I move in a variety of ways. Her arm in mine with a hand on my bicep tells me everything I need to know. A gentle pull back to stop, a tap to move forward and again, the directional pulls and communication. In a tight situation, like a bar or restaurant, we have found putting my hand on her shoulder, allowing us to take up less width while moving has worked good.
For a person that I don’t move with frequently, I prefer to hold their right elbow. Not knowing exactly how confident they are with guiding and how we will work together, this method allows me to hold their right elbow while utilizing my cane in my right hand. With someone that I am not used to moving with, I will communicate more, usually cracking jokes to break the stress. “Are we near the door?” “Is there a lot of people here?” “Can you put my hand on the chair please?”
Guiding a visually impaired person is not something that I’ve ever done, but I can imagine that it is pretty stressful. I can imagine that it’s pretty awkward, cause it sure is for me.
5. Close your eyes and be organized
This is one of those things that isn’t natural. However, I challenge you to just close your eyes a few times throughout your day and imagine if that was all day. Think about the ice cube that dropped on the floor, the door left halfway open, the stool that wasn’t put back, the wine glass on the edge of the counter, the shoes kicked off in front of the couch, the bicycle left in the driveway, and the open water bottle on the ottoman. Think about how challenging it is to know any of those things are there, with nearly no vision.
We are constantly told that we have the cleanest home. We are told that we have the most organized garage. We are told that we have a nice “minimalistic” design. It isn’t because we like cleaning and it sure as shit is not because we are “fancy” people. It’s for function of me. My family loves me and helps me by keeping things tidy, putting items away where they should go and I help m myself by creating routines or organization. I know exactly where the utensils in our kitchen go but if someone reversed their organization, I would keep doing it the only way I know how to. If someone moved my couch 3 feet to the left, I would know when I ran into it. If my tools were scattered on my bench, I would knock them over onto the floor, sending them rolling into a black hole that would never be found again.
Being blind is hard enough. Organization and methodology is crucial for a productive and enjoyable life. Our chaos is manageable with the help of my wife and two amazing daughters, but if they stopped doing their part of cleaning up and keeping things tidy, life would sure get more challenging.
Thank you girls for helping Daddy with life.
With that said, most blind people are very organized and as a sign of respect, understanding and decency, understand that the organization, placement, and routines they follow enable their independence and mobility. I would bet that, like myself, most visually impaired people put their wallet in the same spot, their cane in the same corner, their clothes in the same places and their living space without change. Knowing that nothing has changed provides a blind person the confidence to move off of memory, whether it’s counting steps, feeling the ground or using their hands to find benchmarks that indicate their location.
Did this help you? Does it make any sense?
Drop a comment below.