Encounters of the Blind Kind
By Gayle Yarnall
I have received several requests from sighted people about how to handle encounters with blind people. In this article, I will try to answer some of the most commonly asked questions, as well as some less common ones. I will try to keep this on the lighter side and still manage not to offend anyone.
If you have questions please send them and if you have solutions please send those as well and I will make up the questions. Always remember that the best advice is to ask the person what they would like you to do to help. Everyone has their own idea of what they need.
Lesson #1 - Restaurants
If you are eating out with a blind friend or colleague, or serving them a meal, there are several simple hints. Let's call the person who is blind Judy so we don't have to keep calling her the person who is blind.
You are entering the restaurant with Judy. She may be using her dog and ask him to follow you or she may be using her cane. She may also ask you to be her sighted guide. If you do this she will gently hold on to the upper part of your arm and walk slightly behind you. Don't grab her arm or hand. Don't try to push her in front of you. When you reach the chair glace her hand on the back of the chair and mention that this is her chair. You can take the seat with the view and not feel guilty.
Explain the way the table is set. Don't just tell her where her napkin and flatware are located. These things are important but she will want to know what the dishes look like, what kind of flowers are on the table and even how the restaurant is decorated. As the meal progresses you can even tell her about interesting people who are at other tables.
Always ask for a Braille menu. Most restaurants don't have them but the more they are asked for the more they will show up. If you are the server who is serving Judy you should offer to read her the menu. If you are eating with Judy you can also read the menu. When I am out with more than one friend they will take turns reading me the menu. Some people really like to read about desserts and some do better with starters. My close friends can scan a menu and read me only the things I like. I don't need to hear anything about liver or Okra.
When the food is served, let Judy know when everyone has her food so she does not gobble up her dinner when the rest of the table has not been served. Use the old-fashioned clock to tell Judy where things are on her plate and around her plate. The wine is at 1:30 and the salad is at 11:30.
Keep talking about how the food looks. A lot of work goes into food presentation and Judy will want to know about it. She may want to copy the presentation at home.
If Judy pays the bill with a credit card offer to write the tip on the slip. Make a crease on the line where she should sign her name. If cash is involved tell her the order of her bills: the ten is on the bottom or there are two fives and the rest are ones. Judy will fold the money correctly and put it away. Now you will retrace your steps out of the restaurant.
You may find that people will ask you what Judy wants. People are uncomfortable trying to figure out how to talk to someone who is not looking at them. Just ask them politely to address Judy directly. Trust me, Judy is used to this issue.
Don't be afraid to tell Judy she has spinach in her teeth or tomato on her shirt. Judy cares as much about how she looks as you do.
Lesson #2 - Signing on the dotted line
With the exception of some totally blind people, who have been blind all their lives, people who are blind or visually impaired can and prefer to sign their own name. There are some people who are totally blind who will sign with a x.
The problem is that most people who are sighted don't know how to show a person who is visually impaired the place to sign.
In this scenario we will call our person, who is visually impaired, Leslie.
Leslie is using her credit card and you need her signature on the charge slip. This slip is fairly small and if you put your finger where you want her to sign you may get written on. Crease the slip on the signature line. Then flatten the slip so the raised crease indicates the line. Leslie will sign with no problem.
Trust me I have signed a lot of charge slips and hardly any two are alike.
Hand Leslie the pen if she is borrowing it from you and let her do what ever needs to be done to extend the point from the pen. This saves more splattering of ink.
In my office when I have a contract to sign someone creases all the places that need signatures or initials. They try to keep the crease even with the line, beginning and ending with the start and end of the line. This lets me know just how big I should be writing.