Meeting, Guiding, and Orienting a Person Who is Blind or Low Vision

Family, friends, and professionals are often unsure of how to interact with and assist older people who are blind or low vision. They aren’t sure what individuals can see, what is considered standard courtesy, and what type of assistance older people who are blind or low vision may desire.

Know that the vision of one who is blind or low vision depends on their eye condition, day-to-day fluctuations, and factors such as poor lighting or glare. It is also beneficial to understand standard courtesy for meeting, guiding, and orienting people who are blind or low vision. The techniques are useful when interacting with an individual who is blind or low vision and when assisting them if help is requested.

Guiding Techniques

two women demonstrating human guide technique. person needing assistance has hand just above guide's elbow
Demonstrating Human Guide Technique

Identify yourself verbally when meeting someone who is blind or low vision. State their name so they know that you are talking to them and don’t walk away without telling them.

  • When guiding, don’t try to push or pull. Let them take your arm just above the elbow.
  • Speak directly to the person who is blind or low vision, not through another person.
  • Speak naturally. There’s no need to raise your voice unless you have hearing loss. Check out our tip sheet on meeting someone with hearing and vision loss for more information.
  • Give directions with details. Instead of saying, “The bench is over there,” say, “The bench is to your immediate right.”
  • When visiting someone who is blind or low vision, don’t move things without asking; always put things back where you found them.
  • Remember, the person who is blind or low vision is the best one to tell you how you can help. Just ask!
  • Above all, treat a person who is blind or low vision with dignity and respect.

Trailing and Self-Protective Techniques

The trailing technique is useful when a person who is blind or low vision is in an unknown environment. It can help find a door or detect objects in front of a person. When trailing, the person should always use the back of the hand. A cautionary note: this technique will not help locate drop-offs such as stairs or with face-level objects. An adequately used cane can locate drop-offs.

man trailing wall

The upper body technique involves positioning the forearm about 10 inches before the upper body with the palm out and fingers splayed.

Upper body self-protective technique
Upper body self-protective technique

The lower body technique protects the lower body with one arm angled across the lower part of the body and the palm facing inward.

Non-Visual Information

A person who is blind or low vision can learn to use non-visual information–other senses, such as hearing, touch, smell—to gather valuable clues. Sounds, such as the hum of an appliance, smells such as deodorizers, or touch, such as the feel of textures like carpet, can all help orient a person to the environment.

Orientation and Mobility Specialists

People who are blind or low vision may not be aware that there are specially trained professionals called orientation and mobility specialists who can help them use a white cane and learn to get around safely. Check out the APH ConnectCenter’s Directory of Services to find specialists in your area. Orientation and mobility specialists normally work in state or nonprofit agencies serving people who are blind or low vision.