Helping You Help Us: Tips For a Mutually Respectful Blind And Sighted Experience

By Brandon Smith

I want to give some tips from a personal perspective on how to assist a person who is visually impaired.

First, I am not one of those blind individuals who will reject the offer of assistance, even when it would be best or most convenient to do so. Independence is necessary. Being as independent as possible is what visually impaired individuals should strive to do; however, when that need to be as independent as possible gets to the point of being unsanitary, for example, count me out.

Yes, I would love assistance at the buffet. I have heard instances where blind individuals will try their best to handle serving themselves at a food line. Personally, I do not want to share a buffet with these individuals. There is too much opportunity for a spill, people touching food that doesn’t go onto their plates or accidents from burns. Don’t be a hero!

The best thing for a sighted person to do is to ask a blind person if they are in need of assistance. There will be times, for example, an individual walking around a city may get disoriented. Most blind individuals who travel independently are confident in their abilities, and can get to their destination without difficulty. In cases where help is requested, I would like to offer a few friendly suggestions: Please do not push us from behind, grab and pull us along by our hand, or give directions in extremely loud tones. Remember the myth some people have about the blind having enhanced hearing? Apparently there are others who think the opposite.

If we need to be guided, a blind person will ask to take the arm of the sighted person, just above the elbow.

If you encounter a blind person in a restaurant, please do not expect their companion to speak for them. We are fully capable of speaking for ourselves and placing our own orders.

Please don’t assume because we are blind that we have a natural tendency to trip or are unable to complete physical tasks. Our bodies are no more brittle than a person who has full vision unless there is a secondary condition present.

As for my blind counterparts, please remember to be courteous. If assistance is offered in a polite manner, but not needed, then graciously decline. We need to avoid the image that the blind community is unapproachable.

Be self-reliant as possible, but don’t be afraid to accept a helping hand. Sometimes life’s little tasks can be better accomplished through teamwork.