Some General Information About Blindness

WHAT TO DO AND WHAT TO AVOID WHEN HELPING A PERSON WHO IS BLIND

DEFINITIONS

What is meant by blind, Legally blind, or Visually impaired?

Each is a term that refers to amount of residual vision.

Having normal vision with no impairment means you are 20/20.
Legally blind means (20/200), 90 percent vision loss.
Visually Impaired means vision ranging from 20/70 to 20/200.
Blind means very little or no functional vision.

What do you do when you see a person who is blind? What should you avoid doing?

Please note that amount of remaining vision and level of adaptive skills may determine how independent that person is, or isn't. Every individual is different.

Most important, remember, he or she is a person first, who just happens to be blind. If a circumstance arises, where making reference to someone who is blind is necessary, say, "she is a woman who is blind, not a blind woman, thus putting the person first, and the disability second.

If you see someone who is blind or visually impaired who seems to need assistance, or is asking for help, offer your assistance. Identify yourself and ask how you may help. Never push or pull them where you think they may be going.

Speak directly to a person who is blind, not to a third party, about him or her. "Do you know what she would like for dinner?" Blindness is a visual disability, not a hearing loss nor a language impairment. Generally, most people who are blind or visually impaired can hear fine and are able to speak for themselves. Go ahead and use words like "see" and "watch." They are a normal part of everyday language and you can't avoid using them any more than a person who is blind can. For example, "Did you watch the news last night?" Substituting the word "listen" for "watch" or "see" would make it awkward. There just aren't any reasonable substitutes. It also makes for a more relaxing, comfortable, (normal) interaction between the two parties.
If you do happen to speak to someone who is blind or visually impaired, and they do not acknowledge you, then there may be a hearing loss. If you feel this may be the case, you may want to gently touch them on the upper arm to get their attention..

MOBILITY

A person who is blind can walk from one location to another (cross the street, find a table, or go to a different part of the building) without being pushed or pulled.

Offer your assistance. If your offer of assistance is accepted, the person should take your elbow, following the motion of your body and directions. If they choose to follow you, do not say "follow my voice", as some may not be able to do that accurately if there is a hearing impairment. Instead say something like "come straight ahead, and now turn right." Try to always give clear verbal information ("narrow doorway COMING UP" "turning right" etc.). Please be specific and accurate. ("The elevators are at the carpeted area just across from the restaurant." or "To reach the meeting rooms, turn left at the right end of the hotel's front desk and go to the stairs, directly in front of you, or take the ramp, a little to the left of the stairs.") Also, if assisting with navigating stairs, always let the person know whether the stairs are going up or down.

CANES AND DOG GUIDES

Many people who are blind use canes to avoid obstacles (posts, furniture, or other people) or to locate a desired goal (stairs, carpeted areas, or furniture.) When guiding a person who is blind, do not grab the cane. Instead, offer them your elbow.

Many others depend on dog guides to avoid obstacles in reaching their desired destination. A guide dog works by following "his/her handler's commands, (left, right, forward, etc.) stopping at steps, and going around people and other objects. Never pull or touch a guide Dog's leash or harness, and always communicate directly with the guide dog handler.

As tempting as it may be to pet a dog guide, remember that this dog is working when it is wearing a harness and is responsible for safely leading its owner who cannot see. The dog should never be distracted from its duty by touching, talking, or making eye contact with it when it is working.

Also, most importantly, under any circumstances, should a guide dog ever be fed table/people food or scraps. It is actually unhealthy for them, and feeding them human food will instill undesirable behaviors and habits, which will make it difficult for the handler when in restaurants or other public places.

If you are assisting a person who is blind, and must leave for any reason, announce that you are doing so. Don't leave him or her stranded, or standing there, talking to empty space. This also applies when entering a room such as in a hospital. Announce yourself by saying something like "Hello", and let him or her know who you are.

Restaurants

Remember that everyone is an individual, and individuals will vary in how much assistance will be needed. When seating a person who is blind, if your offer for assistance by taking your elbow has not been accepted, give verbal directions as he or she follows you to the table. (Straight ahead, turning right, table is on your left), etc.

If help is requested with reading the menu, you might want to start with naming off the various categories of food, giving the person an idea of what your restaurant offers. When serving the meal, place the plate down in front of him or her, indicating that you are doing so, by saying something like "here we go, or here is your chicken." Ask if there is anything else you can do. Do not assume you must tell anyone where their food is located on their plate, as not everyone wants or needs you to do that.

When refilling drinks, make yourself known. Simply say something like "here is some more tea, coke, coffee, etc.

When the bill comes, make sure you give each individual bill to each individual, not everyone's bill to the sighted person at the table, unless the sighted person is planning on paying for everyone, smile. At this point, some people might want you to read them their bill, and some may not. Again, just ask if you can be of any further assistance. Just remember, common sense, and sensitivity is most important.