Step-by-Step Guide To Guiding Someone with Low Vision
Getting around especially in unfamiliar environments can sometimes be a challenge for people living with low vision.
While some individuals choose to use guide dogs, others prefer sighted guides of the two-footed variety. Just like with dogs, however, these human partnerships will be most successful with good communication—and a little bit of training beforehand.
Communication is Key!
Rather than make assumptions, you should talk to the visually-impaired person and ask if they’d like you to help guide them. If so, find out if they have any particular ways they like to do certain things.
Next, keeping in mind the person you’re guiding typically walks a half step behind and to the side, find out if they prefer the left or right. Move the back of your hand to touch the back of their hand on that side. Once contact is made they will move their hand up your arm to just above your elbow—and voila you’re ready to go. (Be sure to watch for obstacles on the ground and at head level as well as on the sides and advise as needed.)
Together Through Ups and Downs, Thick and Thin
Fully-sighted people don’t think twice about things like curbs and stairs but they can be a challenge for those living with low vision—and those guiding them. Always stop and tell the person whether curbs or steps go up or down. In the case of stairs, you should walk one stair ahead and make sure they have access to the handrail to hold with their other hand. Stop at the top or bottom and announce it is the last step.
When going through a narrow space it’s important to make sure you walk one-in-front-of-the-other instead of to the side. To accomplish this tell the person they need to directly follow you and then move your guiding arm to the middle of your back. Once you have returned to open space, re-position your arm to its original location and resume walking as usual.
Be Their Right Hand Man (And Left Hand, Too)
Many people living with low vision will tell you which of your arms they prefer to hold as you guide. There will be times, however, when circumstances dictate temporarily changing this arrangement. The most important thing to remember when moving from one side to the other is you should always remain in physical contact. The easiest way to do this is to stop walking, let the person being guided put both their hands on your arm and then move one hand at a time over to the other arm. Once that arm is held they can move into the typical walking position.
Hold the Door…Well, Sort Of
When approaching a door, tell the person with vision loss whether it opens in or out and which side the hinges are on as this is the side they should be closer to. (If need be stop so they can change sides per the instructions above). Once they are in position, open the door and walk through then to let them take hold of the door and have it close behind them.
Take a Seat
Guiding can mean more than just getting from here to there. When approaching a chair, explain where it is located in the room and which way it’s facing. Help the person with low vision get oriented by touching your guiding arm to the chair. Let them move their grip to the frame and explain which part they are feeling. At this point most people will be able to sit down on their own.
Going for a Ride…
Getting into a car can also take some navigating. Tell the person which direction the vehicle is pointing and which door they will be entering. Move your guiding arm to the handle and have them slide their hand down your arm and grab it. They often will then open the door and seat themselves though if the car is not one they are used to you can put your arm against the top frame so they don’t hit their head.
While this unique manner of communication-by-touch may seem like a lot to remember at first, with practice it can become second nature. It can also come with unexpected benefits like an even deeper bond between the guide and the individual with vision challenges. Just don’t expect a doggie treat.