Have there been times when you have wanted to offer help to a blind or partially sighted person – maybe to help them cross a road – but weren’t sure how to guide?
If you find yourself in this situation, firstly, ask the person if they would like to be guided. You may also like to introduce yourself. If they would like assistance, then ask them whether they would like to be guided on the right or the left. People with guide dogs need to be guided on the opposite side to the dog, and guide dogs are usually controlled with the left hand, so you would need to be on the person’s right.
The most common way to guide someone is to offer your arm, and the person to be guided will hold it just above your elbow. Then, you will walk about half a pace ahead. Some people may choose to place their hand on your shoulder. When you are guiding, give clear precise information. Indicate whether steps go up or down, or if a door is opening toward or away from you.
If you have helped someone across a road, make sure you take them all the way across and that they know where they are before you leave them.
Guiding in a pandemic
Evidence suggests that there is limited risk of transmission of COVID19 from guiding a blind person as you are walking a half to one metre in front and to the side. It is important, however, that you don’t undertake any activity that you are not happy to perform. Some social distanced guiding techniques have been developed – these may be useful for people with a little more useful sight as they might be able to see enough to follow you, especially if you are wearing bright clothes. But do remember to alert people to hazards.
You can help guide people in shops by inviting the blind person to hold the back end of a shopping trolley, or basket, allowing you to create a bit of distance between yourself and the other person. Some blind or partially sighted people may find that wearing a face covering prevents them from using their full range of senses to move independently; as a result, some may be exempt from wearing a mask. Many blind and partially sighted people may find independently socially distancing extremely difficult due to not being able to quickly and easily determine where others are located.
Please be cautious about simply providing a blind person with verbal instructions to aid their movement in an unfamiliar area as this is extremely difficult to do safely. It relies on excellent communication and instant understanding of instructions.
Alternatively, check out the Ramble Tag – this is a contactless guidance method. Physical boundaries can be easily respected with the Ramble Tag, and it allows the guide to keep some distance from the person they are guiding. More and more venues (such as the Tate Galleries in London) are choosing to include the Ramble Tag as a guiding option for blind and partially sighted guests because it allows no contact guiding. Visit the Ramble Tag website to find out more about these guidance aids.
Important: whenever you are guiding a blind person make sure you keep yourself safe. Maintain your hand hygiene.