Tuesday, September 15, 2015

3 Horrible Ways to Lead the Blind, and How You can Effectively Guide Them Safely

We have a tendency to want to help people who have a disability, and there is nothing wrong with that! It is a good thing because people with disabilities do need some assistance from time to time.
However, we do need to learn what is the best way we can do to help them without stepping on their dignity and/or lose their respect for you. So, how can you help someone who is blind? How  do you help them navigate around a potentially hazardous situation or to guide them to a table at a restaurant?

title photo with a picture of a cane tapping on brick ground
3 Horrible Ways to Lead the Blind, created with canva.com
This might come as a surprise to you, but there exists a list of guidelines on what a sighted person, that is someone who can see, can do to safely lead a blind person. When you follow the etiquette, I guarantee you the blind person will remember you in a positive light rather than a bad one.

The following list are the three methods of leading the blind an average person often commit. To help promote disability literacy, I've listed the standard way to guide a blind person. If you follow the standard guidelines, you're golden.

1 | Holding on to their wrists with both hands

Think about the common phrase, "lead someone by the hand."

It's a natural part of our language, because we tend to lead someone by the hand, sighted or blind. However, in our culture, it is not socially acceptable to hold's a stranger's hand. To compensate, we go for the next best thing—their wrists. When we have someone's life literally in the palms of our hand, we want to be extra careful and hold on to them for dear life, often holding their wrist with both of  our hands.

While their wrist is being held on by us, their hand is holding onto nothing but air, throwing off their sense of balance, and they feel in danger of losing it and either trip or fall. A lot of blind people have experienced tripping over their own two feet because they don't know where the person is leading them. This applies to other forms of bad methods used by the sighted person when guiding the blind.

Let us be reminded that we human beings are not all that fragile as we think others to be, and that includes people who are legally blind and other forms of disabilities. Being held by the wrists with two hands makes the blind feel like they are made of glass, and they sense you don't trust yourself or them to follow your lead. This in turn causes them to not want to trust you. To maintain a two-way street of trust, ask how you can best guide them.

2 | Pulling the Blind From the Front

No one likes to be treated like children, but when the blind is pulled towards somewhere by their wrist, arm or other parts of their body as parents do when they need their kids to go somewhere. It also creates an awkward walking pattern for both yourself and the blind, doubly so if you are walking backwards while craning your head back to check your pathway. Feeling like a kid or walking awkwardly does not inspire a good feeling in a blind individual.

Again, if the blind does not have something to hold on to, it can throw their balance off. Give them something to hold on to when you're leading them somewhere. The awkwardness of being led from the front could also make the blind feel ill at ease because they are not walking as they normally do.

Instead, turn around and face the same direction they are facing, and you will be on the right track to leading the blind.

3 | Pushing From Behind Into an Unfamiliar Place

Do you want to feel like you're going to get murdered in a horror flic? Using someone else as a shield is how you get murdered, more so in a place you have never been to before and it is poorly lit.

If you are not sure where you are going, the blind person can tell you don't know and, consequently, feel unsafe with you. It is a classic case of the blind leading the blind.

Instead of having them in front of you, always keep the blind person just behind you on either of your arm. It also helps to be aware of where you are going even in unfamiliar places. Stop walking if you need to in order to assess the area for the best course of action to take. They won't mind if you took a moment to familiarize yourself with the environment.

4 | How to Lead, The Right Way!

The standard way to lead a blind person is to offer them your elbow or your shoulder, depending on their preference. Ask the blind individual how they prefer to be led. The reason the elbow or the shoulder is the standard is because both body parts are the best places for a blind person to sense the direction you are heading in.

Click to get a larger view of the two diagrams,
leading by the elbow and by the shoulder
Your arm and shoulder is in sync with the direction your body is going. The blind has honed their senses to pick this up.

If you are leading a blind person by your elbow, do not stick your arm out away from your side or keep your arm straight. Doing so hampers their ability to sense where you are going. Keep youar arm close to your side and bent at an angle, If it helps, cros your forearm across your stomach.

Letting them use your elbow or your shoulder also helps them maintain their balance. If they cannot sense where you're going, their balance will be thrown off and become hazardous not only to themselves but to you. It is for both of your safety you keep your arm close to your side and to ask if the way they are being led is comfortable.

It never hurts to ask what works for them when you need to guide them, so, don' tbe shy. When you lead, the two of you become a team, and teamwork is important in order to chieve your goal—getting somewhere safely.

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