Three Questions with a blind person – part 3

People who are fully sighted often have many questions about daily life as a person who is blind or visually impaired. This is my ongoing series answering these questions for you – my sighted readers. If you have (respectful) questions you would like answered, feel free to send me a private message on Twitter, or drop me a message with the contact form on this website. I’ll add them to an upcoming article. I have found those who are fully sighted often find asking questions about being blind extremely challenging. This forum is your opportunity to ask the questions that have been on your mind.  

How do I give directions to a blind person?

When you see someone who is visually impaired out and about, they are generally traveling a path that is familiar. As an example, on my path to Starbucks to get coffee in the morning, I can tell you were every planter, exposed root and downramp is. I know how many steps each landmark is from one another and the location of those landmarks reinforces the fact that I know exactly where I am. Sometimes, things happen – you get a call, you lose focus or another dog distracts your guide dog. At this point reorienting needs to happen. I will often ask if ahead of me is X street or if the Starbucks is up ahead of me on my right. A quick affirmation from someone who is sighted can go a long way to getting me back on track to my destination. With that in mind, here are a few tips to make the directions you give to someone who is visually impaired a bit more helpful.

  • Don’t point to a location and say “it’s right over there”. If the person has a cane or a guide dog, you can be assured that they can’t see where you are pointing. Likely your interaction that day will feature you as the subject of the story the person tells the next time they are on /r blind.
  • Don’t grab the arm of the person and attempt to take them to their destination. Unless the person asks, or if the destination is difficult to maneuver (construction) the visually impaired person will likely be very capable of navigating their way to their destination.
  • Do give directions from the point of view of the visually impaired person. “The grocery store is ahead one block and on your left.”
  • Do offer any additional information about temporary obstacles along the route they are traveling. “There is a tree branch halfway down the block you might want to keep to your right”. The visually impaired person is going to know about permanent obstacles like benches and permanent garbage cans.  

How do blind people watch TV and movies?

Many of the recent movies have audio descriptions available which includes additional information about what the characters are doing onscreen. “He picked up a book and looked at it” is a good example. This helps the visually impaired person to enjoy the subtle visual cues in the film, especially when those cues are integral to the plot. In the case of an older movie, my wife often will tell me when something happens that I need to know about. This also means that if you are in a movie theater and the people in front of you are whispering about the movie, it likely means one if visually impaired and you are not being a nice person if you shush them – unless they are being overly loud. When watching older shows that have subtitles it can be frustrating if you don’t know the language. I generally steer away from shows or movies with subtitles. If there is no one watching with me, I pay attention to the dialog more than you might expect and can figure out what his happening from that. The big things I miss are during the chase scenes and big action scenes which have little to no audio clues or description in an older movie.

Why aren’t we allowed to pet guide dogs?

Guide dogs are often very engaging animals. My guide Fauna often makes eye contact with people looking for interact6ion. Just because a guide dog is looking at you doesn’t mean they are neglected, it is always best to ignore a working guide dog. When I am walking down the street, I put my full trust into my guide to get me from point A to B without running into anything or putting my well-being at risk. When you walk up to a guide and pet them without asking or whistle or make kissing sounds at them, they get distracted. Depending on the dog, this distraction can take time to recover from. If you walk up and pet my dog while we are working, she could inadvertently walk me into traffic or an obstacle.  Guide dogs like all dogs love to interact with people and it is your job as a good citizen to take a deep breath and ignore them no matter how cute they are.  

Your Turn!

Are you fully sighted and have questions about interacting with visually impaired friends or what it is like to be blind? Feel free to drop me a message on twitter @nedskee and ask away, I will cover your question in an upcoming installment of this series. Don’t worry I don’t have to use your name it can be anonymous.

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