Blind Etiquette 101

Sure, you’ve seen Blind people before. Maybe you’ve watched a guy walking down the road using a white cane. One day you were at the food court in the mall and you observe someone with a guide dog eating their lunch a couple of tables over. Maybe, one day,  you spotted a Blind person getting onto the elevator in the office building where you work.  Some sort of vague thoughts pass through you’re mind. Hmm, you think. I wonder how the heck he knows where he’s at.  You stare, with guilty fascination at the lady eating in the food court.  Your eyes move from her, to the dog lying quietly under the table.  You sit at your desk with your computer screen displaying the latest work project and your mind goes back to the guy getting into the elevator.  If he can’t see a monitor?… And one day, quite unexpectedly, you have your first up-close, face-to-face, gotta-interact-with-a-Blind-person situation. Oh, my gosh!!! What now? You’re clueless.  You want to help, but your mind is blank.  You’re worried about doing or saying the wrong thing.  You’re out of your comfort zone and nobody enjoys that.    In these days of excessive political correctness, and the hype about “inclusion and rights”, it can be daunting. Relax!!!  I’m here to ease your mind and to provide you with an ongoing course in ‘Blind Etiquette 101’. I’m not the Voice Of The Blind, but I can help you out. Let’s begin with some general facts, opinions and suggestions. 

  •  Some people with visual impairments have no vision, however, other people who are legally Blind, have some useful residual vision (RV). I’m going to use ‘Blind’ to refer to all of the above. 
  • Blind people are multi-dimmentional, with unique and varied personalities, backgrounds, knowledge, skills etc.
  • It’s OK to use words like: watch, see, read etc.  when you are with a Blind person. (I ‘read’ audio books)
  • Blind people do not have better hearing. We just use it more effectively.
  • Sometimes, Blind people require assistance, sometimes we do not. Do not pull on a sleeve or grab at an arm.  Use your normal tone of voice to inquire if the person wants assistance.  They will tell you the best way for the situation.  If guiding, let the Blind person know about steps and curbs and if you are about to step up or down.
  • If you are asked for directions or the location of an item, do not say, “over there”.  That is useless. Be as specific as possible.  Indicate the number of blocks, or estimate the distance in length (10 yards, 20 metres), or  use an imaginary clock to indicate position, from the Blind person’s perspective (“it’s at your 2 o’clock). That works for food on a plate too.
  • When helping a Blind person find a seat, approach it with them and allow their knees to lightly touch.  Tell them if it is an arm chair, bench or other. Perhaps you could tap the seat area with your hand.
  • Personally, when someone is passing or overtaking me on the sidewalk or hallway, I appreciate an audible indication…”passing on your left” or any sound…not essential, but pleasant. I find it a little creepy when people slink by me.
  • In a crowded space, like a  meeting hall or party with a blind person?   Let them know if you are wandering off. Also remember that it is preferable to provide them with a tangible surface as a reference point, like a chair or wall. It’s more comfortable than standing in a loud,open environment.
  • Honking your car horn at a Blind person is usually not at all helpful because they don’t know if you are honking for them, or another car, or indicating that they should cross the street, or indicating that they should stay put!

That’s it for today’s class in BE101. Come back for more tips this week. 


    3 responses to “Blind Etiquette 101

    1. Maria Begona

      Dear Sir/Madam,
      Thank you for the etiquette points. I like the idea of taping the chair and leaving the person holding onto something before running off (and cueing them that you are doing so).
      My poor friend has been very frustrated recently, I’m a little clumsy. If you could offer any pointers on helping someone in a 2nd language environment I would be thankful X3.

    2. Hi Maria, I promise to blog about ‘2nd language environment’ tips, as you call it. I must think about it overnight. Bienvenue
      …and it’s madam (Helen)

    3. Pingback: Disability Etiquette: Beyond Wheelchairs

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