The US Department of Health and Human Services reports that 4.3 million people in that country are blind or visually impaired. Many people know blind people and want to be helpful, but are not sure how to behave in a useful way. Notifying the person when you enter the room, asking how you can help, and using language that isn't awkward are all ways you can be courteous to the blind person. Above all, your behavior should communicate respect and awareness that the person you are helping is more than just a blind person.
Part 1 of 3: Knowing Basic Etiquette
Step 1. Greet the person out loud
When you enter a room where a blind person is, immediately say something to alert them to your presence. Being quiet until you are by his side can make him feel like you want to appear suddenly and that is not comfortable for anyone.
- Say your name so they know who you are.
- If the person offers their hand when greeting you, accept.
Step 2. Let him know when you leave the room
It may not be intuitive, but you should always say something when you are about to leave. Don't just assume the person will listen when you go out. It is not polite to leave the room without saying anything, as you will leave the person talking alone. This is frustrating and embarrassing.
Step 3. Ask him if he would like help
If it seems like the person needs help, the best thing to do is ask instead of assuming they need your help. Just say politely, "Would you like help?" If the answer is yes, ask him what he would like you to do. But if the answer is negative, it is impolite to insist. Many blind people are perfectly capable of getting around without help.
- If he says he would like help, just do what he asks and nothing else. It is common for sighted people with good intentions to “take over” and end up hurting more than they helped.
- In some situations, there is not even a need to ask. For example, if everyone is sitting at the table and the blind person is already seated, you don't have to go and ask if you can do something. Be sensitive to the situation and don't assume things.
Step 4. Ask questions directly of the person
Many people who are inexperienced with the blind are unsure how to address them, so they turn to their partner. In a restaurant, for example, it is common for waiters to ask the person sitting next to the blind person if they want more water, a menu or something similar. Blind people can hear without problems and there is no reason not to address them as you would everyone else.
Step 5. Use words like "look" and "see."
Your inclination may be to alter your normal language habits and try to find ways to say words like "look" and "go." It's okay to use these common words, as it would be weird not to. It can make the blind person feel more uncomfortable if you talk to them in a different way than you talk to other people.
- For example, you can say something like "good to see you" or "let's see what we do."
- However, don't use the words "look" and "see" when doing so would be impossible for the person. For example, if the person is about to trip over something, it is more helpful to say "stop!" instead of saying "look!"
Step 6. Don't pet a blind person's guide dog
Guide dogs are highly trained animals that enhance the life and safety of blind people. The blind rely on their guide dogs to get around and that is why you should not call or pet any of them. If the dog is distracted, it can create a dangerous situation. Don't do anything that might occupy the dog's attention. If the person invites you to pet their dog, it's okay to do so, but if not, don't touch it.
Step 7. Don't make assumptions about the blind person's life
It is impolite to ask several questions or to make a big deal about the fact that someone is blind. Blind people have already answered these questions. Every day they are faced with situations and places that favor the people who can see. You can help a blind person feel more comfortable by being sensitive to this situation and just talking to them in a normal way.
- A common myth that people always ask the blind is whether they have the sharpest sense of hearing or smell. Blind people have to trust these senses more than people who can see, but it is not true that they have super powers when hearing or smelling, and it is impolite to assume that.
- The person may not want to talk about why they are blind. If he brings up the topic, it's okay to keep asking more questions and continue the conversation, but otherwise, don't comment on it.
Part 2 of 3: Helping the Blind Person Get Around
Step 1. Don't move the furniture without telling her
Blind people memorize where furniture is in homes, classrooms, offices, and other places they frequently go. Moving the furniture can confuse the person and possibly be dangerous.
- If you do move the furniture, tell the person exactly how the arrangement of the room has changed.
- Avoid leaving obstacles in the way of the person. Don't leave the doors open. Don't leave things scattered on the floor.
Step 2. Offer your arm to serve as a guide
If the person has asked for help walking from one side to the other, offer your arm by making it touch the back of the arm, just above the elbow. This is a comfortable place for the person to hold your arm as you walk. When you start to move, walk a half step forward and not very fast.
- When you are guiding someone, you should walk slower than you normally do. Walking too fast can cause the person to fall.
- If the person uses a guide dog or cane, walk on the opposite side.
Step 3. Describe things in detail
As you walk, talk about the things you find. If you come across a curb, say "up" or "down" to let the person know to make a change. Be very specific and describe things by mentioning their location. If a blind person asks you for guidance, you don't help much if you say "out there." Instead, describe how to get there by saying how far away it is.
- For example, say, “The store is three blocks away. Turn left, walk two blocks north, turn right and at the end of the block you will find her on the right side of the street. "
- Nor is it very useful to orient people according to some point of reference. Saying "It's right after the tap" will not be helpful to someone unfamiliar with the area.
- Describe the things that are in the person's path. Warn them of low-hanging branches and other obstacles they won't be able to see.
Step 4. Help the person to sit up
The best way to do this is to take a chair and put the person's hand on the back of the chair so they can sit down. As you do this, describe the height of the chair and which way it is facing. Don't guide a person back to sit down because they may lose their balance.
Step 5. Help the person use the stairs
Start by saying whether the stairs go up or down and describe how steep they are and how long the stair is. Then, place the person's hand on the railing. If you are leading the person, take the first step and make sure the person has time to climb up behind you along the way.
Step 6. Help the person through the entrance
As you approach the door, make sure the person is next to the hinge and explain which way the door turns. Open the door and go first. Place the person's hand on the handle and allow the door to close after the two of you have passed.
Step 7. Help the person get into a car
As you approach the car, tell him which way the car is facing and which door is open. Put your hand on the car door. She can probably open the door and sit down, but stay by her side in case she needs help.
Part 3 of 3: Helping People Who Have Been Blind Recently
Step 1. Explain that blindness is not a tragedy
If you have a friend or family member who just went blind, they are probably in trouble and scared. You may spend a lot of time with your doctors or therapists to make a different life transition. It's hard to know what to say, but many blind people lead full and wonderful lives with a rich school or work life and normal relationships.
- If the person shares that they would like to talk about being blind, listen with empathy.
- Learn the best ways to help a loved one who is blind, from helping them develop a new organizational system to tidying up the house to make it more accessible.
Step 2. Provide information about organizations for the blind
Joining organizations for the blind is an essential way to transition from sighted to blind. Talking to other people who have been through the same thing also helps, as they have a lot to teach and changes to make. Here are some organizations dedicated to helping blind people lead full and active lives:
- The National Federation for the Blind
- American Council of the Blind
- State organizations, which you can find here:
Step 3. Talk about rights and resources
Living a blind life has been made easier by modern inventions, policies, and laws aimed at facilitating the needs of blind people. If you know someone who has recently gone blind, help them find resources that will give them access to everything from kits designed to help people read online, to social security benefits for counseling, and so on. Help the person you know review the following:
- Learn Braille
- Labor reintegration
- Social security benefits
- Laws (for example, only the blind can walk with a white cane)
- Products and reading and orientation aids
- Acquire a guide dog