Assisting someone with sight loss

Many people affected by severe vision loss may not use a guide dog or cane but may require some assistance. Also many people who do use a guide dog or cane may have residual sight, may be quite independent or may be very familiar with their surroundings, and may not require assistance. Always ask someone if they would like some assistance, don’t presume that a person will need your help.

The following are some guidelines for guiding a person safely, however people may have their own preferences about how they like to be guided so always ask the person what they are comfortable with.

1. Suggested initial approach

Begin by asking the person if they would like some help. If they accept, ask if they would like to take your elbow.

2. Grip

The person may hold on to your elbow or simply touch it.

3. Your position

Walk half a pace ahead of the person you are guiding.

4. Single file

You may need to walk single file when moving through crowds or narrow spaces. Put your guiding arm behind your back. The visually impaired person will straighten out their arm and walk right behind you, taking shorter steps so they don’t walk on your heels.

5. Going through doors

Approach the door with the person you are guiding on the hinge side. Open the door and the visually impaired person can use their free hand to take the door handle from you. If the person you are guiding is not on the hinge side, ask them to change sides. They will side-step behind you, taking your other elbow with their other hand. Bend your elbow and point it out behind your back to make it easier for them to find it.

6. Steps and kerbs

When you reach a kerb or step, approach it straight-on, stop, and say ‘step down’ or ‘step up’. Warn them if the step is higher or lower than usual.

7. Stairs

Approach stairs so the person’s free hand is near the handrail and tell them where it is. Say ‘stairs up’ or ‘stairs down’. Always say when the top or bottom of the stairs has been reached.

8. Sitting on a chair

If the visually impaired person is holding your left elbow, use your left hand to grip the back of the chair so they can feel where it is. They can then release your arm, and sit down by themselves. Never push anyone backwards into a chair.

9. Getting into a car

Say which way the car is facing, and place the visually impaired person’s hand on the door handle. The person should then be able to manage by themselves.