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Assisting someone with impaired vision

Communication

Guide Dogs instructor assisting client on the street, bus in background

When communicating with someone with vision loss, good clear communication is the key. Here are some tips:

  • When you greet a person, don’t forget to say who you are.
  • Offer your help, rather than assuming the person needs assistance.
  • Speak as you usually would; you don’t need to speak loudly or slowly, or avoid words such as “look” and “see”.
  • If you’re in a group situation, introduce the person to other members of the group.
  • Make sure you tell the person when you are leaving.

Giving directions

If the person needs directions, give these clearly and precisely from where they are located. Use indicators such as right or left, compass points or clock-face directions. For example, “There is a spare seat three steps to your left” or “Your drink is at two o’clock on the table”. Don’t point or use vague descriptions such as “over there”.

Dining

When the person enters, greet them and ask if they need assistance.
In a restaurant, offer to read the menu, including the prices. Some people may be able to read and others may not.
When the food is served, tell the person about the objects on the table and the position of the food on their plate.

Guiding techniques

Guiding techniques enable people who have vision impairment to move through the environment safely and confidently with the assistance of a guide.
As a guide, you should provide useful information about the environment you  are travelling in, look for potential hazards and think “two people wide”.

Initial Contact

Ask if assistance is required. If it is, touch the back of the vision impaired person’s hand with the back of yours. The person would then be able to hold your arm just above the elbow.

Walking

As a guide, make sure you are half a step in front, not positioned side by side. This way the person being guided is able to pick up on your natural body movements when walking and is safe from obstacles.

Walk at a pace that is comfortable for both of you. Look ahead for obstacles, on the ground, to the sides and at head height.

Narrow spaces

Sometimes it is not possible to walk “two people wide”, e.g. when passing through a doorway. Physically indicate this by shifting your arm being held to the centre of your back. This way the person can move in behind you, so you are both in single file. When you have passed through the narrow space bring your arm back to the usual position and continue guiding in the original position.

Changing sides

When changing sides, it is safest to stop walking. The person places their free hand on the guide’s back and then releases the original grip. The person then trails across the guide’s back until reaching the guide’s arm on the other side.

Doorways

When passing through a doorway, it is easier if the person you are guiding is on the hinged side of the door. As you get close to the door explain which way the door opens, e.g. towards you or away from you. Open the doorway using the narrow space technique.

Stairs and Kerbs

The guide always approaches the stairs squarely, never at an angle and always stops at the edge. The guide should tell the person if the stairs are going up or down and should suggest changing sides to use the handrail if necessary. The guide needs to stay one step ahead of the person being guided. Stop when you reach the end of the stairs and indicate their last step.

Guide Dog etiquette

It takes a lot of concentration for a person who has impaired vision to work safely with a Guide Dog. To help this team focus on its important work there are a number of things you can do to make sure that they remain safe and unhindered. Find out more