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Become a Sighted Guide
The ability to see is something that many of us take for granted. We can navigate safe pathways, read the facial expressions of others and enjoy lights and colours that surround us.
You can do something to help enhance the lives of people who have visual impairments.
The UK charity Guide Dogs advises that ‘Visual impairment is a fact of life for thousands of people, and with an ageing population many more will be affected by sight loss in the future’. Consider, for a moment, what it would feel like to lose your sight. The world could become much smaller, and everyday tasks could become very difficult.
When you are out and about, be mindful of the people around you. If you notice someone who is visually impaired, make sure that you give them plenty of space. People who are visually impaired may use a white stick to ‘see’ the path ahead of them. They may walk slowly. Some visually impaired people may have the assistance of a guide dog. As the dog is working, you shouldn’t distract or try to stroke the dog.
If you notice that a visually impaired person is walking towards danger, or if they have stopped walking, follow these steps;
Go to the person and say ‘Hello, my name is…can I help you?’ Don’t feel awkward about this! Even if they don’t require assistance, they’ll be alright with you asking. If they say no, then just say ‘goodbye’ and go about your day.
If they accept your help, listen carefully to what they want. If they want to be supported to walk towards the pedestrian crossing, make sure you know which crossing they want, and where they are heading to. To make sure you have heard them correctly, repeat the destination back to them, for example, ‘Ok, so you want to go to the crossing for Victoria Street?’. Once they have confirmed, you are ready to get walking.
Blind and visually impaired people may wish to hold on to your arm to while you help them to get to where they want to be. This is the essence of sighted guiding. If you offer your arm close by to the person, they will have the option of holding on – your upper arm, near your elbow, will be great.
Once the person has your arm, make sure that you walk at a pace that suits them. Rushing them could be dangerous – they can’t see any irregularities in the paving stone heights, so go as slowly as the person would like.
While walking, it is nice to make polite conversation, though your role is to support the person to get to where they want to go, safely. Try not to distract them, but do tell them about the route – perhaps you could describe the surroundings. You should point out any hazards on the way, you are acting as their eyes on your short journey together.
Once you get to the destination, tell the person that you have arrived. Make sure that they know where they are. Before you leave them, make sure that they are alright, then say goodbye!
Sighted Guiding - How to help blind and partially-sighted people
Supporting someone in this way can be rewarding for you, and you are helping someone in a hands on, meaningful way.