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UK Coaching Team
232
Supporting Specific Needs

Guiding a Blind or Partially Sighted Person

Top 10 tips for sighted helpers on how to guide someone safely, including advice on guiding someone who has a guide dog

To download a PDF version of the information on this page, for you to print out and refer to, please click here

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Most blind and partially sighted people will have some usable vision.

A blind or partially sighted person may use a cane or guide dog to move around. When moving around your facility you should move out of their way because they may not see you or a safe route around you. Don’t distract a working guide dog.

Some blind or partially sighted people may also like extra help from a sighted guide. As a sighted guide you may help someone find their way around or find people they want to speak to.

There are many ways to guide someone, and you should always ask the person you’re guiding what they’d prefer and let them know what you’re doing. When approaching someone who looks like they need some help, it’s good to keep in mind that they will likely have been guided many times before so will know what works for them.

Offering to guide someone will often be welcomed, but there are many reasons why someone may decline your help. They may have reasons around culture, gender or personal space, or just be orientating themselves in an unfamiliar place. Sometimes they may not need guiding but just need to know where they are to orientate themselves.

It is important to remember that guide dogs are working animals, so you should ask the owner of a guide dog before you touch their dog or distract them.

Communication

  1. Communication is important when guiding as you will be describing when there is a change in the environment, for example when you are coming up to a door or to stairs. However, all the instructions you provide can be done in natural conversation. Remain calm, clear and natural to provide the best support.

Setting off

  1. Stand alongside the person you are guiding and hold out your arm slightly for them to take. They will hold your elbow, either cupping their hand against it or take hold of it lightly. You put your arm where it’s comfortable as long as your upper arm is straight. The person you are guiding will walk about half a pace behind you – this makes it easier for them to tell when you’re turning your body.

Narrow and busy spaces

  1. With narrow and busy spaces you will need to walk in single file. This includes corridors, between fitness equipment, crowded areas, and access barriers. Let the person you are guiding know that you’re approaching a narrow or busy area and that you will need to walk in single file. Move your guiding arm back and hold it across your back. It may be easier for the person being guided to move their hand to your wrist when doing it. It can be helpful to slow down.

Steps, stairs and slopes

  1. Let the person you are guiding know that you are approaching steps or slopes and whether they are going up or down. If possible, they should be on the side with the handrail – it may be necessary to ask to change sides with them. As you go up or down the stairs, the person you’re guiding will feel your arm move which is their cue to start, which means they will be one step behind you. Let them know when you have reached the final step and pause while they find it with their foot. When they feel their arm resume its normal position, they will know you are both on the same level. Because going down stairs can be more hazardous, allow more time to find the handrail and feel the first and last steps. If you are shorter than the person you are guiding, take your first step with the leg nearest them so they can feel your movement more clearly. Some people use their guide dog as a substitute for the handrail and others prefer to use the stairs without a guide, using the handrail and their dog.

Doorways

  1. When approaching a doorway, let the person you’re guiding know whether the door will open away or towards them and if it’s a double door, if it opens their side or your side. Always try to have the person you are guiding on the hinge side of the door. Open the door with the arm you are guiding with, which means that they can tell which way the door is opening. It can also act as a guide for them to move their hand along so they can place their hand on the door easily or find the door handle. If in doubt on how to negotiate a doorway it may be easier for the person you’re guiding to go through it themselves. Simply open the door for them and re-join them the other side. If they have a guide dog, they will probably prefer this approach. Automatic doors rarely pose problems but you should let the person you’re guiding know that you’re approaching them and which way they will open.

Lifts

  1. Lifts are straightforward – let the person you are guiding know whether you’re going up or down and which direction the exit is if there are doors at each end.

Access barrier

  1. As always, let the person you are guiding know that you’re approaching an access barrier. If you’re using an automatic access barrier the person you’re guiding should go through first. Position them in the correct place by the barrier, place their access card in or on the machine and take it off or out while they go through the barrier. You can then follow them through and re-join them on the other side. Where possible use an alternative to an automatic access barrier such as a gate. Many people will generally prefer these as well, so where possible use the wider gate positioned at the end of the barriers.

Seating

  1. To help someone into a seat first describe what type of chair it is, including things like whether it has arm rests, how high it is and if it has wheels. You can ask them to let go of your guiding arm and place your arm on the back, arm, or seat of the chair. Choose whichever feels most appropriate for the kind of chair. The person you are guiding can then follow your arm with their hand to locate the chair – you should let them know which part of the chair you have placed your hand on. If a chair is under a table let them know this and guide their hand to the back of the chair. If the chair is on wheels, then hold the chair whilst they sit on it. It is important to always guide people into a seat and not back them into it. Please remember that you are not trying to support someone’s weight when they are taking a seat, simply guide someone to the chair.

Finishing

  1. Before leaving the blind or partially sighted person, check they know where they are and tell them you are going.

With a guide dog

  1. You should always approach someone who is using a guide dog from the opposite side to the dog. It is also important not to take hold of the dog’s harness or lead, as even though you are guiding someone they will still be using the dog. Some people also prefer for you to walk alongside them without holding your arm, or walking in front with the dog following you.

The Travel Eyes – So How do I Guide a Blind Person video is a great way for others to learn how to guide.

Encourage facility staff/volunteers to guide each other with the person being guided using a blindfold.

If you feel apprehensive about guiding, don’t worry. The more you guide, your confidence will increase and your technique will improve. The main thing is to communicate with the person you are guiding as they can help you to help them.

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