Some people with vision impairments can get around independently without assistance but there may be instances where they may require help. If you meet a person who is blind or vision impaired in the community you may be concerned about the appropriate etiquette about how to respectfully assist them. Until a friend, relative or colleague experiences problems with their eyesight, you may never have known anyone who could not see well or at all. Here you will find some simple hints and tips on practical ways you can assist a person who is blind or vision impaired if you are a pedestrian, a bus user, a car driver, a cyclist, a skateboarder, a roller skater, a neighbour or a trader.
Some people with sight loss may appreciate assistance to cross the road or to find a shop, for example. If you think this is the case:
- Ask the person if they need assistance and, if they do, ask what assistance they require.
- Do not assume that a person with sight loss standing near a road crossing always wants to cross the road. They may be waiting for a taxi, bus or a friend!
If you meet a person with sight loss on a narrow pavement, speak to let him or her know that there is very little room to pass. You may have to wait for a break in traffic and then step off onto the road to allow him or her to pass you.
Indoors, in a narrow corridor or doorway, speak to let the person with vision impairment know that you are there, and suggest a way for you both to pass each other without too much difficulty.
A bus user
A person with sight loss may prefer to walk to the pole of the bus stop, so that he or she knows that they are at the right place to wait for the bus. Some of the things that the person may need assistance with are:
- Recognising an oncoming bus – a large lorry and a bus can sometimes look and sound very alike.
- Identifying the bus number, particularly when the bus is moving.
- Finding the door of the bus.
- Finding a free seat.
- Knowing when they have reached their stop to get off.
When people with sight loss travel independently on public transport, some may need assistance such as showing them a handrail or with finding a free seat. Always ask the person if they require assistance, and if they do, ask them what help they need.
A car driver
If you stop to allow a person with sight loss to cross the road, allow the person plenty of time to realise that you have stopped. Wait for the person – they need plenty of time to ensure that there is no traffic coming from the opposite direction and that it is safe to cross. Consider the danger of another driver overtaking your car just as the person with sight loss is crossing. If you want to help a person with sight loss to cross the road, it is usually best to safely park your car and get out, or leave it to pedestrians to offer assistance.
Do not beep or flash your lights as a person with sight loss will not know whether you are advising them to go or warning them to stop. Many can’t see your flashing lights, and a sudden beep is startling, adding to the stress people with sight loss may experience when crossing roads.
Shouting is also unhelpful, as it is not always clear to a person with sight loss whether the shout is addressed to them or to someone else.
In heavy traffic, treat pedestrian crossing walkways as if they were yellow hatched boxes on the road. Do not move onto the pedestrian crossing until there is clear space to move off it on the other side.
Do not park on the pavement, because it may force a person with sight loss to walk onto the road and risk being struck by a passing vehicle.
Cyclists, skateboarders or roller skaters
Cycling on the pavement is illegal. If using a skateboard or roller skates on the pavement, be very careful of other pedestrians. Stop and wait for a pedestrian with sight loss to pass as they are approaching you.
Cyclists on the pavement can cause stress and anxiety to people with sight loss who are unsure of what quiet but fast-moving object is approaching.
If the pavement and cycle lane are close together, a person with sight loss may not realise that he or she is walking in the cycle lane. The best way to offer assistance is to stop and tell the person that they are in the cycle lane, and guide them over to the pavement.
When cycling on the road or a cycle track, if you see pedestrians ahead who look as if they are about to cross the road, ring your bell as you approach.
Don’t leave your bicycle lying on the pavement or insecurely balanced – it can become a trip-hazard.
In your neighbourhood
- Cut back overhanging bushes and trees which may cause a face-level obstacle to people using the public pavement.
- Make sure your garden gate or rubbish bin does not become an obstacle on the pavement.
- Always place a protective barrier around the slanted part of a skip placed on the pavement.
- Ask your children not to abandon toys on the pavement as they can become a trip-hazard.
Don’t let your dog wander around unaccompanied. Loose dogs often attack or distract guide dogs. They can regard someone using a white cane as an attacker, and get aggressive with him or her. Also, if your dog wanders around loose, it is very likely that it will foul the pavement. It is illegal to let your dog do this and if it does, you are obliged by law to clean up immediately, or be fined.
Never leave an open cellar door, trap door or inspection cover on the pavement without a solid barrier around it. Any work on the pavement should be guarded securely and illuminated by day and night. Scaffolding and ladders should be brightly coloured and securely protected.
Do not allow delivery vans to park on the pavement or obstruct a crossing point. ‘Sandwich boards’ or shop displays should only be placed on the shop forecourt area.
Planning permission is necessary for seating at pavement cafes. Pavement cafes should not protrude onto the public pavement, and should be surrounded by a protective barrier. The protective barrier should contrast in colour with the background environment, and someone using a white cane should be able to easily detect it at ground level.
Sufficent space should be left on the pavement for pedestrians with vision impairments and wheelchair users to pass each other.
Refuse bags and shopping trolleys should not be left abandoned on the pavement.
Pavements should be safe and free from obstruction.
For more information about how you can assist a person with sight loss contact
NCBI on LoCall 1850 33 43 53.