1. Don’t just run up to someone and ask, “How did you get that way?” Approach it like you’re interested to know, not like you’re asking to make a mockery out of the disability. Maybe like, “Hi, may I ask how your disability came about?” Or, “Have you always been blind?” At that point, my efforts in not thinking you’re an ignorant person I should ignore, could possibly turn into a fantastic and titillating conversation. And maybe, just maybe, you will walk away with knowledge and you don’t have to seem like you’re some annoying ghetto person who was cracking up to yourself because they’re holding a cane in their hand or have a dog to their side.
2. Don’t just forcefully grab someone’s arm out of panic. If you see a blind person traveling, chances are, their mobility skills are decent enough that they can be on their own. If you walk up and ask, “Excuse me, do you need any assistance?” Not only does it show education and tact, but also shows that you’re allowing yourself to know that the blind individual has a mind of their own. You give them a chance to answer with a yes or no, making them just another person getting asked for help. I have had many times where I’m about to walk down steps at a train station, and I get my arm forcefully coddled as if I’m a kid getting held by my mommy or daddy at a young age as we cross the street – that, I’m not.
3. There is a long white “stick,” as you may see it, but we call it a cane. It might sound crazy to describe it this way, but it is our eyes. We use this mobility tool to feel our surroundings. Whether objects in our path, or discovering curbs and staircases, it helps us travel with ease of use. Never jump, grab, or hold the other end of the cane to tease, or offer help. One time, I was walking and someone offered to help and proceeds to pick up the other end of my cane as I’m holding the side I needed to hold on to. I was disgusted – couldn’t believe that this person even remotely thought it was a smart idea to do such a thing, completely making me look like I’m an immobilized, human-sized animal and I’m getting guided by a harness of some sort. Our cane is our lifeline when out in public, and without it, we’re screwed. Simply ask if we need your help, and we will use sighted-guide. Lots of organizations frown upon sighted-guide so if some blind individuals don’t believe in grabbing your arm, don’t be offended. If they don’t grab your arm, repeat, “I’m here,” to give them a verbal guide.
4. This one is huge for me. Sometimes, you’re going to come across a blind individual walking with a, “beautiful,” “amazing,” or “incredible” dog at their side. This is a guide dog, not a pet. You will see a handle, which is what we call a harness. These dogs are not to be touched, fed, whistled at, or grabbed. They’re gorgeous dogs and all, but they help us. Never come up and grab the harness either in an act for help. The standard side a guide dog walks on is the left, so if you are willing to help someone who is blind and is a guide dog handler, walk on their right side. If you approach a blind person to touch/pet the dog, they will call the right time if they do allow it. When I was in college, I had no tolerance for people who would just come up and sneakily touch my dog. If they proceeded to ask after I caught them, they would never have a chance to touch my beautiful baby Teeva. If we are in a spot, where we have enough time, and you ask me nicely, I would definitely let you. You can’t pet the dog while the harness is on because that indicates to them that they’re on duty. You don’t want to distract the dog while working, because the dog will then think its okay to lick, play or disregard the handler, which is extremely dangerous for him/her. Remember, not many people are passive such as I am, so if they say no to petting the dog, don’t be offended as they have their reasons. Respect it, and walk away.
5. DO NOT SHOUT! Lots of people have this thing where they think if our eyes don’t work, then our ears don’t work. I mean, why would they, right? They’re connected and close to each other after all. Yes, there are blind people who are partially deaf, but you shouldn’t shout at us. We can hear you, we can talk to you, and we can speak at the normal volume you speak at with your sighted counterparts.
There are so many things I can place on this list, but it would take way too long to mention. I just hope this helps the next time you see a blind person walking down the street, standing in a store, going down steps, stepping onto a train or walking across the street, that you approach in an educated, and respectful manner. Then you can educate those who may not know. At the end of the day, we are all like you. I have traveled through New York City, Los Angeles, Memphis, and Baltimore on my own just to name a few places, and I have survived. So just like you can travel, I can too. Just like you take showers, have an interested career path, use Twitter, Facebook, text, eat, walk, breathe, I can do it too… I just don’t use my eyes and have found tools and methods to carry these things out successfully.