Many of us find that we become uncomfortable around people with disabilities. This is not necessarily a bad reflection on us, rather it often just means that we very badly want to do the right thing and make that person feel as comfortable as possible while helping them in any way we can.
It’s ironic then that it’s often our urge to help and to say the right thing that can end up making things awkward!
Blindness is no different. If you have a friend, a family member or a colleague who is blind, then you might find yourself worrying about how to act around them and how to help them. This article will try to address what the best way to proceed is and hopefully you’ll be more helpful and less awkward as a result!
Don’t Be Condescending
Many people think that it becomes their job to ‘care’ for blind people as soon as they are in their company. Again, this comes from the right place: they worry that the blind person might fall or hurt themselves if they don’t have help moving around. After all, you probably would struggle to get around if you closed your eyes!
But here’s the newsflash: that blind person was doing just fine before you were coming along and they’re probably fine now too. Different blind people have different strategies for getting around but if you’re meeting this person out and about, chances are that they don’t need your help getting through doorways or staying away from traffic; and it can be condescending and jarring if you keep manhandling them. Apart from anything else, they have a far better idea of what dangers they need to avoid as a blind person than you do!
In short yes there is a small chance a blind person might fall over. But there’s also a small chance that you might fall over. You probably appreciate that people give you the benefit of the doubt…
Oh and don’t whistle, clap or point when trying to help guide a blind person. This is not a game of ‘hot or cold’ and it can be very frustrating.
This extends to your conversation too. While you shouldn’t dance around trying to avoid the subject, you should also avoid letting this dominate every discussion. Imagine how frustrating it would be if the same topic kept coming up every time you spoke to anyone! You’d be dying for some normality…
Blind people are normal people who have simply adapted to do things differently. Talk to them as you would anyone else!
A Couple of Pointers
Is it possible a blind person may need some help navigating? Sure. But wait for them to ask and don’t just grab them or keep saying ‘watch out’ every two minutes. If they do ask for some assistance, just offer them an elbow so they can hang on. They’ll be able to feel your movements that way and follow on their own terms rather than being yanked.
Another tip that some blind people can find useful is to use names in conversation. Bodylanguage is often the main cue we use to direct our questions and points towards people and without this it can sometimes be tricky for a blind person to know who is being addressed. Using a person’s name first can avoid this issue. One thing not to do though? Shout! Why people would think they need to shout for someone who is blind is baffling but it happens a lot!
And if a blind person does want help getting around, finding something or with anything else – they will likely ask (and there’s nothing wrong with prompting politely either). Take their lead and they’ll let you know what they need you to do – don’t try to second guess!
In short, just act as anyone normal and helpful would. If any extra assistance is required of you then be ready to help but for the most part just act as you would around anyone else.