Public Comment

If Your Blind Friends Don’t Tell You... By Arlene Merryman

Tuesday December 27, 2005

If you ever offered to help a blind person and were rudely rebuffed or felt unappreciated, or if you find unseeing people puzzling or scary, please take note of the following.  

Many of us independent, blind pedestrians are being put at risk by construction noise, loud engines, power tools and by ‘help’ from well-intentioned members of the public who startle us out of concentration vital to our safety. Since the Jerry’s Orphans fund-raising marathons, misinformation about disability in general has proliferated. 

What I am going to say is not merely the writer’s personal experience. According to numerous friends and acquaintances I have known for years both back East and in the West, my opinions are shared by many independent, blind people.  

(1) Never grab, pull or push a blind or disabled person.  

(2) Unless you know that a blind person is hard of hearing, talk at a lower volume than you would ordinarily. Many blind folk have acute hearing and are startled and distracted from concentration by a sudden, loud voice.  

(3) If you see a blind person walking alone independently, be sure not to shout, whether or not you think one needs help.  

(4) If you see a blind pedestrian crossing a busy, noisy intersection and want to offer help, it is important not to yell or honk. Leaning on a horn amounts to cruelty!  

(5) Many attempts to help result in misdirection. It’s best not to say to go right or left. If you think that a blind pedestrian is in trouble out in a noisy intersection, best to just say, ‘Wait’ or ‘This way’, but be sure you know what you are doing!  

(6) If you want to offer help to a blind pedestrian walking alone, just say ‘Hello’ at a low to moderate volume. The person may be using hearing to orient, and will more likely request or accept your help if not shocked first.  

(7) Trust us independent, blind folk to know where we are going. Don’t make assumptions about whether we are lost or new in town, no matter how we appear.  

(8) If a blind person asks you for directions, rather than risk giving misinformation when you don’t know, have the courage to say, “I don’t know.”  

(9) Don’t always assume that you must offer help. Wait a few seconds. There is a misperception that whatever a blind person does, a sighted person does better.  

(10) Give blind folk respect by listening to what we say, by not endangering us in acting on antiquated ideas, and you are likely to be appreciated.