CCB Recommended Guidelines for Interaction with a Blind or Visually Impaired Person
The following points of etiquette are helpful to keep in mind
when interacting with a person who is blind or visually impaired.
Sizing Up the Situation
Be aware that blindness/vision impairment runs the gamut from the
total inability to see to vision that is quite functional in many
situations. A large majority, about 80% of the "legally blind"
population, have some vision. You cannot easily determine how
much or what an individual can see. Not every person with a
white cane is totally blind, but may be using the cane to
supplement low vision. A totally blind person will probably
swing and tap a white cane with each step. A person with low
vision may carry the cane folded or unfolded and use it only for
specific situations such as detecting curbs and steps.
Similarly, a person's apparent ability to navigate visually
doesn't necessarily mean that he/she can recognize faces or
determine in which direction or at which object you are pointing.
Finally, even the use of a guide dog does not indicate that the
person is totally blind.
Identify yourself. Don't play guessing games, such as "Do you
know who I am?" Introduce yourself using your name and/or
position, especially if you are wearing a name badge containing
this information, or if you are a uniformed police officer or
Speak directly to a person who is blind or visually impaired, not
through a companion, guide, or other individual. Speak using a
natural conversational tone and speed. It is not necessary or
helpful to speak loudly and slowly unless the person also has a
hearing impairment. Address a person who is blind or visually
impaired by name when possible. This is especially important in
crowded areas. A light touch on the person's arm may also be
used to indicate whom you are addressing.
Immediately greet persons who are blind or visually impaired when
they enter a room or a service area. This allows you to let them
know you are present and ready to assist, and it eliminates
uncomfortable silences. When offering assistance, Simply ask,
"May I be of help?"
When you have been in conversation with a person who is blind or
visually impaired, indicate your departure from the room or the
area to avoid the embarrassment of leaving a person speaking when
no one is actually there.
A guide dog is a working dog, a mobility tool, not a pet. Do not
pet, feed, or distract a guide dog while it is working. The
handler's life depends on the dog's alertness.
Feel free to use words that refer to vision during the course of
conversations with persons who are blind or visually impaired.
Vision-oriented words such as look, see, and watching TV are a
part of everyday verbal communication. The words blind and
visually impaired are also acceptable in conversation. Feel free
to use visually descriptive language. Making reference to
colors, patterns, designs, and shapes is perfectly acceptable.
The use of "People First" language is preferred by many people
with disabilities. Thus speak about a person with a disability
by first referring to the person and then to the disability,
e.g., "persons who are blind" rather than "blind persons."
Be precise and thorough when you describe people, places, or
things to persons who are blind. Don't leave things out or
change a description because you think it is unimportant or
When giving directions, don't point to or describe landmarks.
Use terms such as left, right, front and back. Be specific about
the number of blocks or streets::don't assume the person can read
street signs or building numbers.
Offer to guide a person who is blind or visually impaired by
asking if he/she would like assistance. Offer your arm. It is
not always necessary to provide guidance; in some instances it
can be disorienting and disruptive.
Respect the desires of the person. The most important rule of
courtesy is to respect the person's privacy and independence.
Guide persons who request assistance by allowing them to take
your arm just above the elbow. Walk ahead of the person you are
guiding. Pause at the edge of a curb or stairs before
proceeding. Never grab a person who is blind or visually
impaired by the arm or cane and push him/her forward.
Do not leave a person who is blind or visually impaired standing
in "free space" when you serve as a guide. Always be sure that
the person you guide has a firm grasp on your arm, or is in
contact with a chair or a wall if you have to be separated
Show a person who is blind to a chair by putting the person's
hand on the back of the chair.
Be calm and clear about what to do if you see a person who is
blind or visually impaired about to encounter a dangerous
situation. In such cases courtesy becomes less important than
safety. A specific instruction such as "Stop!" is more helpful
than "Look out!"
And speaking of safety, there are rules that should be followed
in all instances, though they take on more importance where
people with vision impairments are concerned. At home, school,
or work never leave a door ajar. Keep corridors and stairs clear
Offer to read the menu including the price of each item. It
works well to read the categories first and then read a category
in more detail on request. As food is served ask a person who is
blind or visually impaired if he/she would like to be told the
position of the food on the plate. If he/she wants you to cut
the food or serve it from a casserole, he/she will request that
help. It is never bad form to offer, however. In a buffet
situation, some people will prefer that you bring food to the
table while others will want to accompany you to the buffet line
and make choices as you go along.
When making change in bills of more than one denomination, hand
the bills separated by denomination,e.g., present and identify
the ten dollar bills, then the fives, then the ones. This is not
necessary with coins; they can be distinguished by touch.
Reprinted in part from factsheet "Sensitivity to People who are
Visually Impaired," published on
1997, American Foundation for the Blind. All rights reserved.
Modified for use by the California Council of the Blind.