Sightseeing. A periodic tour of CVI news, views and events.

Top 5 Tips on How to Give a Blind Person Directions

Photo of Empish Getting Directions

Empish Thomas demonstrates how some sighted people give directions.

A BLIND PERSON ASKS: Where is the ladies room?
THE SIGHTED PERSON ANSWERS: It is over there.

A BLIND PERSON ASKS: Excuse me Sir, how do I get to the elevator?
THE SIGHTED PERSON ANSWERS: Go that way.

A BLIND PERSON ASKS: Excuse me, do you know where the water fountain is?
THE SIGHTED PERSON ANSWERS: It’s over there.

A BLIND PERSON ASKS: Can you tell me where the exit door is?
THE SIGHTED PERSON ANSWERS: Don’t you see it? It is over there.

As a blind person, I have experienced numerous times when people have given me the elusive “over there” answer when asking for directions. It is that physical place that I can’t find, but must locate. Well meaning sighted people who want to be helpful give that standard “it is over there” response. So I wanted to take some time to gently instruct those who want to help, how to give more direct and specific directions to those of us who are visually impaired. Here are a few important things to do:

1. Be very specific.

For example, say, "The bathroom is down the hall past the elevators on your right." Or you could say, "The bathrooms are two doors down the hall on your right. You will pass the water fountain on the left, then the ladies room is on the right." Giving specific directional instructions is useful because it gives more concrete information.

2. Give landmarks when giving directions.

Landmarks, even if we can’t see them well, will help us stay on the right path and not get lost. For example, say "When approaching CVI from 3rd Street, you will pass the ATT building with a double driveway on your right. There will be street signage and a canopy hanging in front of the building. As you approach the stairs on the right there will be some flowers and grass, so be careful. As you go up the steps you will enter through two double glass doors."

With landmarks it is also good to include audible, tactual or smells as part of your directions. Those of us with vision loss use our other senses to help with navigation. Elevator’s ding and revolving doors swoosh. Feeling carpet and tile with our feet or white canes is valuable. Smelling things like food help us locate a restaurant. For example, say, "To get to Starbucks, you will go through the revolving doors, then move to the left crossing over to the carpeted area and keep straight. You will smell the coffee so follow your nose to the door on your left."

3. Keep it simple.

Sometimes sighted people, in their efforts to give directions, give too many details. Some may say, "To get to the bathroom you will pass two antique, pre-Civil War watercolor paintings on your left. Then turn right and you will notice four potted plants in art deco design pots with one plant larger than the others." While all of this is interesting information it might be a bit much for a person just trying to get to the bathroom! LOL!

4. Be patient.

After you have given the instructions allow the person to repeat them back to be sure that information has been communicated correctly. If the person has additional questions or seems to not understand, be patient and repeat the directions again. If the person is comfortable and you have time, offer to walk with them to the location to be sure they get there.

5. Do not grab, pull or drag the visually impaired person to their destination.

Sometimes in an effort to help, people can get a little too physical and can make a person with vision loss feel uncomfortable. When the person asks for directions just give verbal information unless otherwised directed.

Following these tips will help those of us with vision loss avoid the allusive “over there” and get to where we are going!

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