Sunday, May 30, 2010

Tips for Dealing with Blind People

Here are some other tips:
  • Watch out for half-opened doors. They are a hazard to everyone, but especially to a person who is blind.
  • Give directions with the person who is blind as the reference point, not yourself. Say: “You are facing Broad Street, and you will have to cross it and turn to your right to go east on Chestnut Street.”
  • When helping the person into a car or taxi, place her hand on the inside door handle, and let her go in alone.
  • When entering an unfamiliar office or restaurant, offer your elbow, use specifics such as right or left, and then place his hand on the back of the chair so that he can be seated without further assistance.
  • Don’t let self-consciousness or a misplaced sense of protectiveness make you hesitate to tell a blind person that he has egg on his shirt or that his tie is in his soup. Do so in a matter-of-fact tone of voice and let him deal with the problem himself.
  • Some people have a tendency to raise their voices when speaking to a blind person. If you catch yourself doing so, stop. It’s annoying.
  • When accompanying a person who is blind, do your best to describe the surroundings, especially terrain and spatial relationships.
Recently, I witnessed the following encounter in one of those large chain drug stores. A blind man entered and stopped inside the door. Another customer walked over to him.
“May I assist you?”
“I want to have a prescription filled.”
“The pharmacy section is in the rear of the store. I’d be glad to take you there.”
“Great. Thanks.”
“Take my elbow. We’re going about six feet straight ahead. Now we’re turning right. The floor inclines up, and there are some displays of soda in the middle of the aisle. About four steps more. Okay, shall I get the pharmacist for you?” “No, thanks. I’m fine now that I’m here.”
“Would you like me to wait and escort you out?”
“No, thanks. I can do it now. Thanks a lot.”
As you can see, the person who helped out in this situation was able to combine common sense with simple courtesy in offering help and in providing just the right amount of assistance.

Visual-Impairment Etiquette

In general, guide dogs are working animals, not pets. So don’t pet them. In fact, don’t call their names or distract them in any way. Allow the dogs to accompany their owners into all stores and buildings. These dogs are trained to pay no attention to strangers while working except as objects to be avoided. Attempting to pet them while they are in harness is like urging someone to abandon a good, carefully formed habit. If the dog’s harness is off, it’s okay to ask the owner whether you can pet the animal—but don’t touch it without the owner’s permission. If you are in an environment familiar to a blind person, don’t move things, or if you do, put them back exactly as you found them. Leave closed doors closed, and open doors open. Never leave doors ajar.
Go ahead and offer assistance if you think it might be helpful, but remember that sometimes a person who is blind prefers to get along unaided. If you see a blind person without a guide dog waiting at an intersection, offer to help him or her across.
The fact that the person has stopped at the intersection may signify that he or she is waiting for help.
However, if the person says, “No, thank you,” don’t insist. If the person wants your help, offer your elbow. You will then be walking a step ahead, and the movements of your body will indicate when to change direction, when to stop and start.
Hesitate but do not stop before stepping up or down. You can say, “curb,” or “step down.”

Wheelchair Etiquette

Think of the wheelchair as an extension of the person who uses it. Here are some tips, many of which also apply to those who use crutches, canes, or walkers.
  • In general, you should keep your hands off the wheelchair.
  • Respect personal space. Particularly avoid patronizing pats. Consider what your own reaction would be to this sort of behavior.
  • Try to place yourself at eye level when conversing for any length of time with a person in a wheelchair. It’s impossible to deal with another as a peer if one of you is looking up and the other is looking down. Besides, it’s easier on the neck for both parties and generally more comfortable.
  • Don’t move a wheelchair or crutches out of reach of the person who uses them unless you are asked to do so. And if you do move them, remember to place them within the sight of their owner to avoid possible uneasiness or even panic.
  • Don’t just decide to help out. Ask first. Push a wheelchair only after asking the occupant if you may do so. A good time to offer help is when the person in the wheelchair is encountering steep inclines or ramps or thick carpets.
  • If you’re planning a party or other social function, consider whether the location has access for wheelchairs. Think about such things as steep hills and obstacles when giving directions to the location. Remember that a disabled person may need extra time to reach the destination.