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Blind People

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Proper manners when interacting with blind people

Giving directions

When giving directions to or helping blind people find their way, we need first make sure that the people we are trying to help know their destination exactly. And if we are capable of helping them find and get to the destination of their choice, we need to be as specific as possible.

For example, we need to use specific numbers instead of ambiguous instructions.
Rather than telling blind people to go “here” or “there,” tell them: “Turn right and walk for about one meter, and then left turn and walk another two meters.”

Try to inform them of all conditions they might encounter on the road, particularly with respect to any obstacles or safety hazards, such as road signs and other such installations.

When guiding blind people to their destinations
When guiding blind people to their destinations, let them hold onto one of your arms. This helps them walk much more easily and confidently. Have them hold your arm either at the elbow or by the upper arm above the elbow. Please refrain from grabbing and holding a blind person’s arm; it is considered rude.
If neither you nor the blind person receiving your help is amenable to holding arms, maintain a small distance between yourself and the person you are guiding so as not to interfere with their walking. If the blind person you are guiding is holding onto your arm, refrain from turning your body abruptly or unexpectedly. If you are nearing a potentially dangerous area, such as a staircase or an elevator, pause for a moment and give the person some explanation about the areas or features you are about to encounter.
If you need to turn around, do not turn around while the blind person is still holding your arm. First explain to the person the need to turn around, have him/her let go of your arm, stand face-to-face for a moment, turn around, and then let the person hold onto your arm again. Before opening a closed door, either open the door yourself or have the blind person push the door open, gently guiding him/her inside afterward. If you encounter a revolving door, make sure to inform the blind person in which direction the door is revolving.

During conversations

If you speak out to a blind person who is amid a group of people, he/she may have difficulty determining whether you are addressing him/her or another person. When you are talking among a group of blind people, make sure you identify the person to whom you are speaking by name or some other identifying title. If you do not know the name of the blind person you wish to address, approach and stand near him/her before speaking. Alternatively, you may gently touch the person’s arm to indicate your presence or tell him/her your name again.

People without disabilities often sympathize with and even admire the blind and people with other disabilities for their struggles and triumphs. While you may feel compelled to express your admiration, make sure you do not overdo it. Excessive praise and admiration could come across as improper.

Humor is a great means of bonding. Most blind people have a great sense of humor and have come to terms with their condition. They like to touch, smell, and listen to their surroundings in order to find out what is going on around them. They also love to hear detailed and vivid accounts from their non-blind friends or acquaintances about what is going on around them.

When you talk to blind people, you do not need to speak more loudly than usual. If you have been talking with a blind person in public for some time and need to leave him/her alone for a moment, tell him/her that you will be back shortly and guide him/her to a location or a chair or bench where he/she may wait for you comfortably.

At social functions

Transportation is the most important precondition that must be satisfied in order for blind people to attend social functions. Public transportation carries people into downtown areas, but blind people face a number of difficulties when accessing and using public transportation. It is particularly difficult for them to master bus transfers without the guidance of others. And taxis are costly alternatives. If you are thinking of inviting blind people to a social function, you need to have suitable transportation arranged for them, send willing guides, have them picked up at their locations, and/or invite their non-blind companions as well.

If you are planning a social function, do not assume that your blind acquaintances will not be interested in attending. You may be surprised to learn that a great number of blind people are very outgoing and love to attend such events. Therefore, please give them the chance to decide on their own whether to attend.

The majority of blind people love going to cinemas or theaters even without the help of others. If you happen to take a blind friend to the movies, all you need to do is explain, in a gentle whisper, what is going on in scenes that do not contain any dialogue.

Also, blind people take just as much interest in their appearance and grooming as most people do. Therefore, if the blind people you are guiding or trying to help are wearing different socks or have dirt on their faces or shirts, for example, tell them immediately.

At a store

Before entering the prices of the goods the blind person is about to purchase into the cashier, check the names, prices and the total price of the goods first with the person. Help the person touch and feel the goods directly. Rather than giving the person the change directly onto his/her palm—which may upset or startle him/her—drop the change either in a paper cup or on the counter and tell the blind person where the change is.

If you are a sales agent or clerk at a store and about to help a blind customer, the first thing you need to do is introduce yourself. Then give the customer enough time and space to find and buy the things he/she needs. Any detailed explanations and recommendations of goods you can offer will be of great help.

When a blind customer tells you what kinds of goods he/she is looking for, try to introduce and recommend appropriate items at reasonable prices. You may also offer a few options and detailed explanations or even read the instruction manuals, if possible, so that the customer can make informed choices. Let the customer touch the goods as well. If the customer has chosen the goods he/she wants to buy, explain briefly how the goods are to be used. If the goods are items of clothing, read out the information on the labels.

When riding a bus

If you are a bus driver and notice a blind person at a bus stop waiting for a bus, stop in front of him/her, open the bus door, and ask where he/she is headed and/or for which bus he/she is waiting. If the person needs to get on your bus, tell him/her to get on and clearly indicate the location of the fare collection box.

If the blind passenger asks you questions, give as detailed verbal answers as possible instead of nodding your head or pointing in a direction. Announce in advance the bus stop where the passenger needs to get off to prevent any confusion.

Tell the passenger exactly where the door is located. Rather than guiding the passenger by hand, indicate the poles or walls he/she may touch and lean on while exiting the bus. If the passenger needs to make transfers between buses or subways, give him/her as detailed an explanation of the course as possible. Alternatively, ask one of the other passengers getting off at the same stop to help the blind person access the next mode of public transportation.

At a restaurant

If you are planning to have a meal at a restaurant with a blind friend, ask what kind of food of he/she would like before choosing the restaurant. If your friend still has some sight, he/she would probably not like a restaurant with a dark atmosphere.

When you get to your table, help your friend take a seat. Move candles, flower vases, and any other such objects that might be on the table out of the way. If there are beverages, bread, or other such snacks already set on the table, explain each and help him/her drink or eat as desired. Read out the various items on the menu along with their prices. If there are any items on the menu that you think might appeal to your friend, but that may be difficult for him/her to eat, offer an explanation of that food and ask if he/she would like to try it. Do not limit your friend’s choice based on what you think he/she may or may not be able to eat on his/her own.

When the food arrives, describe it. Some blind people know what they are eating without the need for much explanation. Others, however, require detailed explanations. In some cases, the food might contain unfamiliar ingredients or ingredients that the blind person should not eat. Clearly indicate the locations of the cutlery and food on the table. Explain the dishes in a clockwise manner, if possible, and indicate whether there are any inedible garnishes on the food.

When serving food from a larger plate onto smaller plates, make sure you leave more room on your friend’s plate so that he/she may handle it more easily. Similarly, leave more room in your friend’s glass when pouring water or other drinks. Inform your friend, in advance, of what kinds of food and beverages will be served and how they will be laid out on his/her plate. If there is anything unusual or particular about the way in which the food is to be served, inform your friend of that as well. Especially, be sure to tell your friend whether the drink in his/her glass is cold or hot. For food that requires extra handling, such as fruit that needs to be peeled, perform the extra handling yourself before serving it. Upon his/her request, you may also put all of the servings on a single plate and serve it.

Using a cane

Along with seeing-eye dogs, canes are indispensable tools to many blind people. They use canes to find any gaps, holes, and other obstacles in their way. Do not touch a blind person’s cane without permission. Blind people using canes may appear to move slowly and awkwardly, but that does not mean you must jump to assist them at every obstacle. Leave them be unless they encounter a major obstacle or difficulty. When guiding a blind person using a cane, stand on the side opposite the cane-holding hand and let him/her hold your arm.

When taking a taxi

If you are a taxi driver and spot a blind person trying to hail a taxi on the roadside, pull over in front of him/her, introduce yourself, and help the person get into the car, telling him/her the direction in which the car is headed.

After your passenger tells you his/her destination and explains any preferred route for getting there, try to accommodate his/her preference as much as possible.

Pull the taxi over exactly at the location your passenger indicated. Make sure he/she does not need to cross a street or take a corner to get to the destination after getting out of the taxi. If the destination is a well-known public building, let your passenger get out of the taxi in front of the main entrance, if possible. Tell the person that he/she has arrived at the destination, and open and hold the door for him/her, if possible.

Writing and reading letters

Instead of writing a letter or sending a text message to blind people, it would be best if you could record your messages and send them in audio form. As they cannot read text messages without the help of others, you will need to call them and talk over the phone in order to communicate about private or confidential matters.
If you are trying to help a blind person read a letter he/she has received, make sure to respect the person’s privacy. Tell him/her where the letter is from and ask for permission before opening and reading it.
When reading the letter, try not to express any emotional reaction you may have. Read in a plain and honest manner, and do not skip any words or lines.

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