Family, friends, and professionals are often unsure of how to interact with and assist older people who are blind or low vision. They aren’t sure what individuals can see, what is considered standard courtesy, and what type of assistance older people who are blind or low vision may desire.

Know that the vision of one who is blind or low vision depends on their eye condition, day-to-day fluctuations, and factors such as poor lighting or glare. It is also beneficial to understand standard courtesy for meeting, guiding, and orienting people who are blind or low vision. The techniques are useful when interacting with an individual who is blind or low vision and when assisting them if help is requested.

Guiding Techniques

two women demonstrating human guide technique. person needing assistance has hand just above guide's elbow
Demonstrating Human Guide Technique

Identify yourself verbally when meeting someone who is blind or low vision. State their name so they know that you are talking to them and, don’t walk away without telling them.

  • When guiding, don’t try to push or pull. Let them take your arm just above the elbow.
  • Speak directly to the person with vision loss, not through another person.
  • Speak naturally. Unless they have hearing loss, there’s no need to raise your voice. Check out our tip sheet on meeting a person with hearing and vision loss for more information.
  • Give directions with details. Instead of saying “the bench is over there,” say “the bench is to your immediate right.”
  • When visiting someone who is blind or low vision, don’t move things without asking; always put things back where you found them.
  • Remember, the person with vision loss is the best one to tell you how you can help. Just ask!
  • Above all, treat a person with vision loss with dignity and respect.

Trailing and Self-Protective Techniques

The trailing technique is useful when a person who is blind or low vision is in an unknown environment. It can help with finding a door or detecting objects in front of a person. When trailing, the person should always use the back of the hand. A cautionary note: this technique will not help with locating drop-offs such as stairs or with objects at face level. A properly used cane can locate drop-offs.

man trailing wall

The upper body technique involves positioning the forearm about 10 inches in front of the upper body with palm out and fingers splayed.

Upper body self-protective technique
Upper body self-protective technique

The lower body technique protects the lower body with the use of one arm angled across the lower part of the body and palm facing inward.

Non-Visual Information

A person who is blind or low vision can learn to use non-visual information–other senses, such as hearing, touch, smell—to gather valuable clues. Sounds such as the hum of an appliance, smells such as deodorizers, or touch such as the feel of textures like carpet can all help orient a person to the environment.

Orientation and Mobility Specialists

People who are blind or low vision may not be aware that there are specially trained professionals called orientation and mobility specialists who can help them with using a white cane and with learning to get around safely. Check out the VisionAware Directory of Services to find specialists in your area. Orientation and mobility specialists normally work in state or nonprofit agencies serving people who are blind or low vision.

Learn More

Walking with a guide.

Guide Video – VisionAware

Using the Trailing Technique – VisionAware

Protecting Your Lower Body from Hazards – VisionAware

Protecting Your Upper Body from Hazards Around the Home – VisionAware

 [SC1]A picture may be helpful.