The following piece on "Disability Etiquette" is an excerpt from the United Spinal Association "Tips On Interacting With People With Disabilities." These tips are designed to help you understand what to do and what not to do when in the company of a person with a disability.
People Who Are Blind or Visually Impaired
People who are blind know how to orient themselves and get around on the street. They are competent to travel unassisted, though they may use a cane or a guide dog. A person may have a visual impairment that is not obvious. Be prepared to offer assistance-for example in reading-when asked.Identify yourself before you make physical contact with a person who is blind. Tell him your name-and your role if it's appropriate, such as security guard, usher, case worker, receptionist or fellow student. And be sure to introduce him to others who are in the group, so that he's not excluded.
If a new customer or employee is blind or visually impaired, offer him a tour of your facility.
People who are blind need their arms for balance, so offer your arm-don't take his-if he needs to be guided. (However, it is appropriate to guide a blind person's hand to a banister or the back of a chair to help direct him to a stairway or a seat.)
If the person has a guide dog, walk on the side opposite the dog. As you are walking, describe the setting, noting any obstacles, such as stairs ("up" or "down") or a big crack in the sidewalk. Other hazards include: revolving doors, half-opened filing cabinets or doors, and objects protruding from the wall at head level such as hanging plants or lamps. If you are going to give a warning, be specific. Hollering, "Look out!" does not tell the person if he should stop, duck, or jump.
If you are giving directions, give specific, non-visual information. Rather than say, "Go to your right when you reach the office supplies" which assumes the person knows where the office supplies are, say, "Walk forward to the end of this aisle and make a full right."
If you need to leave a person who is blind, inform him first and let him know where the exit is, then leave him near a wall, table, or some other landmark. The middle of a room will seem like the middle of nowhere to him.
Don't touch the person's cane or dog. The dog is working and needs to concentrate. The cane is part of the individual's personal space. If the person puts the cane down, don't move it. Let him know if it's in the way.
Offer to read written information-such as the menu, merchandise labels or bank statements-to customers who are blind. Count out change so that they know which bills are which.
If you serve food to a person who is blind, let him know where everything is on the plate according to a clock orientation (twelve o'clock is furthest from them, six o'clock is nearest). Remove garnishes and anything that is not edible from the plate. Some patrons may ask you to cut their food; this can be done in the restaurant's kitchen before the meal is served.
Keep walkways clear of obstructions. If people who are blind or are visually impaired regularly use your facility as customers or employees, inform them
about any physical changes, such as rearranged furniture, equipment or other items that have been moved.
From Summer 2007 Newsletter
Volume 2, Issue 3