Whenever I make a new friend, I teach them how to be a human guide for someone with vision impairment. This isn’t necessarily a formal training, as often times my friends don’t even realize that they’re learning. Today, I will be sharing my tips on how to be a human guide for someone with vision impairment. This includes how to guide a blind person, how to help a blindness cane user, and similar situations.
What is a human guide?
A human guide is someone who acts as a guide for someone who is blind or that has low vision. I use the term human guide instead of sighted guide, because someone who is blind or that has low vision can act as a guide for someone. I also use the term to distinguish human assistance from service animal assistance. A guide alerts someone to potential obstacles and guides them to their destination.
The golden rule- just ask, don’t grab
Someone I met on Twitter named Dr. Amy Kavanagh uses the term “just ask, don’t grab” to remind human guides not to grab people. This is especially important when you are acting as a guide for strangers.
If you think someone needs help, walk over to them, introduce yourself, and ask if they need your assistance. If they do need help, feel free to offer your arm and wait for them to take it. Personally, I feel weird grabbing onto people’s arms, and prefer to follow their voice.
Don’t say things like here, this way, right there, etc.
Imagine you are calling your friend and asking where they are. You are wondering where their specific location is, since you can’t see them to know where they are. Instead of telling you a specific place, your friend says they are in the Commonwealth of Virginia, with no indication as to where they could be.
Can you see how speaking in general location terms can be really frustrating?
Common examples of general location words include:
- Over there
- Right there
- In this/that direction
- Underneath that
- In that thing
Now imagine you are calling your friend and asking where they are. Your friend tells you they are on their college campus, inside the student center on the third floor.
This is a much more specific and helpful answer!
Instead of using general location words, use more specific terms when acting as a human guide:
- On your left/right
- Above the bed
- Directly in front of you
- Five feet away, straight ahead
- Under your arm
- Inside the backpack to your right
Don’t say “follow the sound of my voice!”
“Hey Veronica, I’m over here! Just walk over!”
Based on this information, I have no idea where my friend is, how far away they are, or if there are any obstacles. For all I know, I could start walking towards them and fall off of a clif.
As mentioned, I do not like to grab onto the arms of strangers. However, I don’t find it helpful when someone tells me just to follow the sound of their voice and does not give me any instructions about potential obstacles. Instead, narrate specific directions and keep talking so the person can continue to track your voice.
Do allow them to grab onto your hand or arm if needed.
I hold onto my friends all of the time, as I feel more comfortable with them as a human guide. One of my friends jokingly says they can tell when they are giving me bad directions, because suddenly they’ll feel my hand on their arm. There are some people that prefer to hold onto a guide, so don’t be alarmed if you suddenly have a hand on your arm when guiding someone.
Remember the five most important obstacles.
The five most important obstacles, in no particular order, are:
One time, my friend was guiding me as I held onto their arm. They decided to make an unannounced turn, and I smacked right into a pole.
“Oh, I thought you saw that.”
If you see any of these obstacles, make sure to point them out and give their location. Some examples of this include:
- There’s a wall three feet to your left
- We are approaching a curb
- We’re coming up on a flight of stairs
- There’s a pothole, let’s walk around it
- A light pole is on your right
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 as a human guide 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. With these tips, you can be a great human guide for someone with vision impairment!