What’s the first thing you do when someone on the street asks you for directions?

Most people point. It’s amazing how much of what we hear is supported by what we see. Here are some tips for giving directions to someone with vision loss:

  • Describe the environment in detail.

    If you tell the person that the train station is two blocks to the left, he or she will probably get there. Still, it’s always more helpful to paint the picture a bit. Is there a bakery next to the station? Then say, “When you smell the fresh bread you’re right there.” Is there a street being repaired en route? Say, “You’ll hear the trucks and street diggers; be careful crossing the street.” Also, if the person uses a cane to travel, he or she will want to know any changes in ground texture—concrete to grass, carpet to tile, that sort of thing.

  • Do not say, “it’s right here,” or “it’s over there.”

    Remember, “here” and “there” alone are meaningless to someone with severe vision loss. For example, if a person asks you how to find the elevator,

    DON’T say: “It’s over there to your left.”

    DO say: “OK, if you walk straight down the long corridor to your left approximately 100 feet, you’ll pass a set of water fountains that make a loud humming sound on your right. Just when you feel the carpet change to tile, you’ll find the elevator is directly in front of you.”

  • Point out potential danger points along the way.

    Is there a sudden, steep decline in the sidewalk ahead, or a tricky, busy intersection to cross? Is a delivery truck being unloaded, blocking the sidewalk? Maybe the pedestrian path goes from wide to narrow. Passing on information about these or any similar obstacles will help the person arrive at his or her destination quickly and safely.