Blind etiquette: six ways to be considerate when interacting with people with visual impairments

A young woman holds a guide cane in one hand with a sighted guide on her other side outside the Howe Building

A student walks with a cane in one hand with the other on the teacher's arm as a guide. Another student walks behind them using a guide cane as well.

There’s no “secret” to interacting with people who are blind. They just want to be treated like everybody else, with courtesy and respect. So relax and act naturally. Just be aware of the fact that you can see and they cannot. Here are six suggestions that will make your next interaction with someone who is blind more respectful of them and more comfortable for you:

While not all of these tips are appropriate for social distancing today, we all look forward to a time when we can offer our arm for assistance in the future. 

  1. If you think someone who is blind may need help navigating, ask first. It’s jarring for anyone to be unexpectedly grabbed or pulled, but especially so for someone who can’t see who’s doing the grabbing. By asking, you give the person a chance to accept or decline your help”
  2. If your help is accepted, offer your arm, tell the person you have done so and allow him or her to grasp your arm just above the elbow. That makes it easier for the person to feel your movements and follow on their own terms.
  3. If you see someone who is blind or visually impaired about to encounter danger, be calm and clear when you warn the person. Use specific language such as “there’s a curb right in front of you,” or “the door in front of you is closed” instead of “watch out!” Also, use directional language such as “to your left” or “directly behind you” rather than “it’s over here.” Remember that using directions in relation to other things doesn’t work for someone who can’t see those other things. 
  4. Identify yourself when approaching someone who is blind, or when entering a room with them. Even if the person has met you before, he or she may not recognize you by your voice.  In a group setting, address the person by name so they know when you’re talking to them. And inform the person when you depart, so they don’t continue the conversation to an empty room.
  5. Never pet or distract a working guide dog. These dogs are busy directing their owners and keeping them safe. Distracting them makes them less effective and can put their owners in danger.
  6. Use “people first” language. No one wants to be labeled by how they are different. It’s kinder, and more accurate, to say "a person who is blind" rather than "a blind person." We are all people first.

A little understanding and sensitivity goes a long way. By following these suggestions, you’ll find that making a human connection is easy. It doesn’t matter if one person can see and the other can’t.

 

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