One time, on a day trip with a couple that I am good friends with, I kept running into stuff constantly, even with my blindness cane to help me. There were so many obstacles on either side of me that it was hard for me to process it all. To help me figure out what was around me, I grabbed my friend’s hand, and she continued to hold on to her fiancee’s hand. As a result, we were walking down the street, all three of us holding hands. While going down stairs and walking into rooms was slightly challenging, and I’m sure we got lots of stares from onlookers, I started running into things less and was able to understand what was around me.
Human guides, or as I affectionately call them, my eyes, are extremely important when it comes to living with low vision. Even though my cane can give me a lot of feedback, sometimes it doesn’t alert me to things until it’s too late. My friends are trained to help alert me to my surroundings and what’s in front of me, and while nobody is perfect, I like to think my friends are pretty darn close. Here are some tips on being a helpful human guide for someone who has a vision impairment.
Don’t say things like here, this way, right there, etc.
I like to compare it to someone asking where I am and me saying I’m in Virginia. That could mean anything, as it’s a very large area. Likewise, when you tell someone who can’t see that something is “over there,” it’s not very helpful when you can’t see where “there” is. Don’t worry about using words like “see” though- read my post on that here.
Don’t say “follow the sound of my voice!”
I am not a bat, I do not have echolocation, and when someone says that in a crowded room, it’s hard to figure out where they are, and in what direction I should be going. There are some people who use echolocation as an orientation and mobility technique, but it requires special training. Learn how to approach someone with low vision without scaring them here.
Do allow them to grab onto your hand or arm if needed.
I hold hands with my friends all the time. On a trip to the Smithsonian and Madame Tussaud’s, I held hands with one of my best friends practically the whole time as they helped guide me around and describe to me not only the hazards around me, but the cool things as well.
Remember the five most important obstacles.
These are walls, curbs, potholes, doors, and stairs. Alert someone to these as you approach them, and when possible, move away from them. One of my friends will tell me “stairs in five seconds” or tap me on the arm to signal turning if I am not already hanging onto their arm.
Remember how important you are.
You are acting as another person’s eyes, so make sure not to hurt them or take advantage of this. Remember how much they trust you in order to let them guide you. Having a seeing-eye friend is one of the best types of friends to have when living with low vision, and I am always grateful that I have my own.