People with sight loss don’t always use a guide dog or cane but may require some help. Also, many people who do use a guide dog or cane may have residual sight, may be quite independent or may be very familiar with their surroundings, and may not require assistance so it’s always best to ask someone rather than presuming they will.
Here are some tips for guiding a person with a visual impairment safely, however people may have their own preferences so always ask what they are comfortable with.
1. Initial approach
Begin by asking the person if they would like some help. If they accept, ask if they would like to take your elbow.
The person may hold on to your elbow or simply touch it.
3. Your position
Walk half a pace ahead of the person you are guiding.
4. Single file
When moving through crowds or narrow spaces, you may need to walk single file. Put your guiding arm behind your back so the person can straighten out their arm and walk right behind you, taking shorter steps so they don’t walk on your heels.
Approach the door with the person you are guiding on the hinge side, then open the door so the person can use their free hand to take the door handle from you. If the person you are guiding is not on the hinge side, ask them to change sides and they will side-step behind you, taking your other elbow with their other hand. Bend your elbow and point it backwards to make it easier for them to find it.
6. Steps and kerbs
When you reach a kerb or step, approach it straight-on, stop, and say ‘step down’ or ‘step up’. Warn them if the step is higher or lower than usual.
When approaching stairs, ensure the person’s free hand is near the handrail and tell them where it is. Say ‘stairs up’ or ‘stairs down’ and always say when the top or bottom of the stairs has been reached.
8. Sitting on a chair
If the person is holding your left elbow, use your left hand to grip the back of the chair so they can feel where it is. They can then release your arm and sit down by themselves. Never push anyone backwards into a chair.
9. Getting into a car
Start by saying which way the car is facing and place the person’s hand on the door handle. The person should then be able to manage by themselves.