Respect: A Crucial Piece of Giving Help to a Person who Is Blind or Visually Impaired

by Roqayah Ajaj

This is a question that I often get: When should I help a person who is blind or visually impaired? In this blog, I am going to share with you some personal experiences that demonstrate when and how to respectfully offer me, or other people who are blind or visually impaired, help in public spaces.

I have written about how to help people who are blind, but it’s important to first ask the question of when it is appropriate to help people who are blind. Even if you know how to give them assistance, it’s important to ask them if they even want your help.

Just as you would with sighted people, only offer help to a person who is blind or visually impaired if they seem confused about where they are going. Some indicators of confusion might be: if they are looking around a lot, if they are standing in one place for a long time, if they have a concerned look on their face, etc. On the other hand, if the person who is blind or visually impaired is walking confidently in one direction, they probably know what they’re doing and should be left alone.

One day, I had a meeting off-campus. I got the address for the building where I needed to go, and I took the train to get there. The directions I had found said I should get off the train and turn left, continuing straight for a while, but I mistakenly turned right and continued straight. I walked for about ten minutes and did not find the place I was looking for. I was confused and pulled out my phone to check Google Maps. I think it was obvious from my facial expression that I wasn’t sure where I was. A woman approached me and said, “You seem confused. Can I offer help?” I replied, “Yes,” and told her what building I was looking for. She said, “Oh my goodness, you are headed in the wrong direction,” and she offered to walk me to the building, as she was going that way in the first place. I appreciated her help not only for the help itself, but because she started by asking me if I needed the help at all. And as a bonus, she had the time to walk with me back toward the building!

Image of a person walking down a street, from behind. Out of focus in the background are cars parked on the street, the sidewalk, and a line of buildings.

Another time, I was on my way to the grocery store I go to regularly. I took the bus, got off at the correct stop, and headed toward the crosswalk. Suddenly, a group of people surrounded me, grabbing my cane and moving my body toward the sidewalk. I was shocked and confused. Not only did they assume that I didn’t know where I was going, but they invaded my personal space. These people made me worry about my safety and boundaries. After this incident, I took two self-defense classes to protect myself. (I encourage everyone who is blind or visually impaired to take self-defense courses!) These people did not ask me if I needed their help but immediately touched me and grabbed my cane. In the end, no one was happy: I was upset and probably seemed very angry. They left me, confused about my response to their “help.”

I think the difference between the scenarios is clear. In the first one, I felt respected and got necessary help. In the second one, my boundaries were not respected, and I was patronized.

The essential point here is: If you are not yet sure if someone needs help, start by announcing yourself verbally and saying hello. Always ask the individual who is blind or visually impaired if they need help before giving it to them, and refrain from touching them without their consent. If they do not need help, they will say no, and they will thank you – don’t feel bad if they say no! Let them be independent. If they do accept your initial offer of help, check out my other blog post explaining how to give that help appropriately.

What are other ways you identify someone who may or may not need help? Please share your ideas in the comments. As always, remember to like this post and share it with your network to widen the impact it has!

One thought on “Respect: A Crucial Piece of Giving Help to a Person who Is Blind or Visually Impaired

  1. Asking to offer help in some cultures are inappropriate. Lack of knowledge is something else as people tend to take actions out of assumptions. They put themselves in BVI. Shoes and assume that they need help. In my opinion, offering help without asking is something a lot do everywhere and to everyone not only BVI’s.


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