Over the last two years, I have amassed a large amount of friends who are blind or that have low vision. It’s an awesome thing, because we can all relate to various aspects of each other’s lives and learn more about cool accessibility related things from each other. However, we don’t just have these conversations on the phone or in someone’s dorm room, as we like to go places to talk or just explore our community in general. This often means that we are being human guides for each other, or as my brother described the situation, it’s the blind leading the blind (or the blind leading the blinder). Today, I’ll be sharing a few of the orientation and mobility techniques my friends and I have developed to ensure no one gets left behind or runs into a pole while we travel as a group.
Does everyone use a cane?
When I am walking with a group of friends who use blindness canes, some people in the group may not use their canes and instead prefer to grab on to someone else. If I am walking by myself with another cane user, one of us will often put away our cane and give verbal directions to the other person. However, if someone prefers not to grab onto another person or walk behind/in front of someone else, then typically everyone has their own cane.
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Grabbing onto an arm/shoulder
When I am walking with a friend who has less usable sight than I do, they will typically grab onto my arm and I will use my cane with my other hand. If I need to use my other arm or hand for something, I will take their hand and place it on my shoulder so that they can continue to follow me or stay in place. I do not like to have people put their hand on my shoulder when walking because I get startled easily, and instead prefer them to put their hand on my arm near my elbow.
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One of my friends is very close in height to me, and they have the tendency to accidentally trip me with their cane if they are holding onto my arm. They also feel uncomfortable with not using their cane while walking. As a result, I will hold onto their hand and often act as the leader, though I would not do this with a stranger because I want to ensure they can let go of my arm at any time.
Tracking by audio
I dislike holding onto the arm of someone that I barely know, and instead ask that they give me verbal descriptions or instructions for where to go. I typically have the other person constantly talk so that I can hear where they are going, and then they give me information such as upcoming stairs or when we will be turning. This works well for both sighted and non-sighted guides.
Forming a line
When I was in Washington DC with a bunch of other blindness cane users, we would often travel in a line, putting our hands on the shoulder of the person in front of us. The person leading the group was frequently a sighted person, or at the very least someone who knew where we were going. Typically only the leader uses their cane when in a line like this, though some people may still hold onto their canes with their other hand.
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What if someone has a guide dog?
When I walk with someone who has a guide dog, I often follow behind them and let the dog lead us to where we are going. Some people prefer to grab onto my arm and walk with their dog on the other side of them, though I am more cautious about this since I don’t want to accidentally hit a dog with my cane.
Using Aira as a group
When I went to dinner with three other blindness cane users, we had trouble finding the restaurant we wanted to go to. Since I didn’t feel comfortable wandering around a dark parking lot, I called Aira on my phone and turned the speakers up so that everyone could hear what was going on. From there, Aira was able to guide us to the front door of the restaurant so we could all sit down. I preferred to have Aira on speaker because it allowed for my friends to hear the directions without me having to repeat everything.
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You do not need to have perfect sight to guide someone who has blindness or low vision- in fact, you don’t need sight at all. While at first I was scared to guide my friends with the same usable vision that I have or less, it has become more natural to me and I feel comfortable walking with other blindness cane users even if I’m the most sighted person in the group. I hope this post provides insight into how people with visual impairments guide each other and act as human guides.