How to assist a person living with blindness or low vision
A person who lives with low vision may need assistance to move through an environment safely and efficiently, with the assistance of a sighted person – their guide. This is known as sighted guiding.
It important to be mindful that not everybody who lives with low vision may require or want assistance. Even if you think they do.
When sighted guiding, guides should use the ‘Three A’s’:
- Address the person
- Identify yourself and state your role.
- Always ask if assistance is needed in the first place.
- Find out what assistance they required.
- Describe what you see around you – objects and where they are located; advise of any changes in layout of furniture, etc
- Use precise, descriptive terms, for example, ‘the door is on your left’ rather than ‘the door is over there’
- Look ahead and advise on upcoming obstacles – at the foot level, head height and to the side
Tips on Technique:
- The person being guided should lightly grip the back of the guide’s arm, above the elbow. This offers comfort and safety.
- Walk at a comfortable pace. The guide should be one step ahead at all times, to offer protection.
- Doorways – it is important to allow the person being guided to be in control of the door; they should be on the hinge side
- Narrow spaces – advise the person that a narrow space is ahead
- Stairs – stop at the first step and tell the person you are guiding whether the steps go up or down. Stop when you reach the end of the stairs and tell the person you are at the top or bottom
- Seating – explain which way the chair is facing and where it is placed in relation to the rest of the room. Also explain which part of the chair you are touching
- If leaving the person alone, leave them in contact with an object.
Watch our Sighted Guide video below
VisAbility has produced a new ‘Sighted Guide video’ which comes complete with audio description. It was produced in collaboration with Curtin University (link opens in new window) and offers some handy advice.
If you live with vision impairment or think you may require a low vision assessment, we have a range of services designed to offer support to live independently including Occupational Therapy, Orientation and Mobility (O & M), Assistive Technology and more. Our Accessible Information Services team can help convert material into Braille or audio, offer accessibility training workshops and help you with audio description.
Contact us for more information.
While reading information can provide an insight into the process, sighted guide training can be provided on an individual basis to VisAbility’s clients with vision impairment and their carers. Training is also available to groups or businesses who wish to learn this skill via our training and workshops program.
Sighted Guide technique video transcript
Audio Description (AD): [A group of people sitting on a park table.]
[Voice Over (VO) ] Amy Barrett-Lennard: My name is Amy Barrett-Lennard and I am one of the Orientation and Mobility Specialists here at VisAbility.
This video provides an overview of guiding techniques, which is when one person is being assisted through an environment by another person. So the person being guided is usually blind or vision-impaired and they’re usually being guided by someone who is sighted but they might also be a vision impaired themselves.
In this first video you’ll see Jade being guided by Robyn. You’ll notice that Robyn approaches Jade and offers assistance without assuming that she needs it. Jade takes Robyn by the elbow and then Robyn starts to guide Jade.
That was an example of the basic guiding technique but there are ways to modify it. So for example, if you are guiding a child, they might prefer to hold on to your pinkie and ring finger, or even your wrist rather than your elbow, and if you are guiding a more elderly person that needed a bit more support, they might want to link arms with you. Guiding can take place on the left hand side or the right hand side and it really comes down to the individual preference of the person being guided.
(VO) Jade: Hi, I’m Jade. I’m a client of VisAbility and, I like playing goalball, singing and horse riding.
(VO) Amy Barrett-Lennard: This next technique shows an example of someone being guided through a more narrow space, so as Robyn is guiding Ryan across the bridge, she brings her arm behind her back to signal to Ryan that they need to go single file. It can also be used in environments like movie theaters, auditoriums basically anywhere where you can’t fit through side-by-side.
AD: [Robyn and Ryan continue walking]
(VO) Ryan Honschooten: Hi, I’m Ryan Honschooten, Youth Support Worker at VisAbility. I really enjoy getting out on the water and doing a lot of sailing competitively and fun. I love kayaking, I do a bit of radio as well, community radio and really enjoy playing blind cricket which is an awesome game, and of course goalball. I think I have to be the best coach in the world.
(VO) Amy Barrett-Lennard: There may be times during guiding when you suddenly need to change direction, so some examples are when you go into a lift and you need to exit the same door that you came in, or you just realized you’re going the wrong direction we want to turn around.
So rather than doing a big full 360 circle which can be quite disorientating and even a dizzying for the person being guided, we recommend these technique to change directions.
So, Robyn and Manny simply take a step in towards to face each other. Manny establishes a new grip on Robyn’s other arm and then they step backwards
facing the new direction.
AD: [Robyn and Manny continue walking.]
(VO) Manny: My name is Manny and my hobby is to play music, because I enjoy playing with different types of people and with different groups and my other hobby is to do a tandem bike riding.
Steps and stairs
(VO) Amy Barrett-Lennard: This video shows the technique of Robyn guiding Ryan up and down a set of stairs. So, there’s a few things to remember when guiding on stairs. One is that in Australia we usually stick to the convention of sticking to the left hand side of the stair rail.
The other is that if there is a handrail available, it’s completely up to the individual whether they want to use that or not. The guide needs to remain one step ahead of the person being guided at all times and alert them to when there is one more step remaining, and it’s also important
to mention whether the stairs are open or closed so that if they are open, the person being guided needs to be aware so that their toes don’t get caught underneath.
(VO) Ryan Honschooten: If you’re a person out in the general public and you see someone with a vision impairment that might need your help, before you just grab their arm or offer sighted guide, ask them first if they need to help or would like to be guided.
AD: [Chalet Healy Café], [Manny and Robyn walking towards the café]
(VO) Amy Barrett-Lennard: This video shows the technique of Robyn guiding Manny through a doorway. The main thing to remember is that Manny needs to be on the hinge side of the doorway.
Robyn takes hold at the door handle, passes it to Manny and then Manny is responsible for shutting the door behind him.
You’ll also notice one of the videos, that Manny starts off being on the non-hinge side of the door, so he moves across to Robyn’s other arm before they negotiate the doorway.
(VO) Manny: I use sighted guide when I’m in a busy places such as, restaurants or public places.
AD: [Flowers in a vase on a shelf], [Manny and Robyn enter the café]
(VO) Amy Barrett-Lennard: This video shows Robyn guiding Manny to a chair at the table. So Robyn places her guiding hand on the back of the chair and indicates where the table is located.
This allows Manny to trail down Robyn’s arm and find the chair. Robyn then steps back and allows Manny to pull out the chair and take a seat at the table.
So, while you don’t want to over complicate things when you’re guiding someone into a seat, it is important to mention whether the chair has arms and whether it’s on casters.
AD: [Jade smiles, waiter places coffee on the table, Ryan takes a sip of coffee.]
Getting into a car
(VO) Amy Barrett-Lennard: This video shows Robyn guiding Jade into a car seat. So as Robyn approaches the car, she places her guiding hand onto the door handle and allows Jade to trail down her armed and locate the door handle. Robyn also indicates the height of the car so that Jade is aware of this when she’s stepping into the car. Robyn then steps away and allows Jade to open the door and take her seat.
(VO) Jade: Let the person know you’re there and just ask them if they need help and if they say yes, then help them.
[Upbeat music continues and fades out]
AD: [End credits]
- Produced by Krystal Butterworth, Georgia Wells
- Crew: Lawrence Bote, Elouise Greenwell, Sean Walsh
- Special Thanks: Araluen Botanic Park, Chalet Healy Café, Curtin University
AD: [VisAbility logo],
[Upbeat Music continues playing and fades out]