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sighted man approaching a blind man at a curb man sneaking past a blind person

—and what don’t you do?

Some people just don’t know what to do when they see a blind person, and so they shy away. After all, if you can see the other person but he can’t see you, you probably have to take the initiative to find out if help is actually needed and wanted. What if you startle him? Or, heaven forbid, offend him? With fears like these, no wonder some people tiptoe by!

At the American Foundation for the Blind, we know that an important part of making the world more accessible for blind people is taking the mystery out of blindness, and making blind people more accessible to sighted people.

You probably first notice a blind person because of the special cane he uses when out and about. This cane is one of the most simple and widely used of an array of assistive devices blind people use to explore, negotiate, and succeed in a sighted world.

So if you see a blind person who seems to need help, offer your services. Identify yourself and let him know you’re talking to him. Otherwise he may not know.

You may also encounter blind people accompanied by specially trained guide dogs that must not be distracted from their work. So in either case, address the person. He’s the one who can answer!

person asking 'hello, may I help you?'

Despite what you may have heard, the blind person who amazes you by confidently crossing a busy street or striding briskly past you on the sidewalk isn’t miraculously endowed with the ears of a bat, the nose of a bloodhound, or other compensating super-senses!

He owes his self-assurance to his own efforts—including many hours of practice with an orientation and mobility instructor—and to laws such as the Americans With Disabilities Act that help bring to life our nation’s belief that it’s the ability, not the disability, that counts.

sighted man gives arm to blind man
A blind person can cross the street without being pushed or pulled, so if he accepts your offer of assistance, let him take your arm. He can follow the motion of your body.

It’s true that many blind or severely vision-impaired read and write braille. But that’s not a separate language, it’s the tactile code for a language. Many also make full advantage of “talking” computers, high-magnification screen readers and other technology to access and share information.

But in day-to-day social situations, you’ll find that people who don’t see, or don’t see well, are apt to be just as talkative as your gabbiest friends. So speak up. Make a new friend.

Speak directly to a blind person, not through a third party. Interpretation is not necessary since blindness is not a separate language.
three people at dinner, one saying 'tell her the filet is excellent, Midge' person asking 'do you see what I mean?'

Go ahead and use words like “see” and “look.” You can’t avoid them any more than a blind person can because there just aren’t any reasonable substitutes.

And … there’s no real substitute for the work of the American Foundation for the Blind. For 80 years, we’ve lived out the legacy of our world-renown friend and colleague, Helen Keller—a woman who was both deaf and blind, but never minced words. She firmly believed that someone who is severely impaired “… never knows his hidden sources of strength until he is treated like a normal human being and encouraged to shape his own life.”

Through AFB programs that encourage and enable blind and visually impaired people to dream as ambitiously and achieve as fully as their sighted peers, Helen Keller’s spirit is alive and well today.

In our rapidly changing world, with new developments in technology and other areas occurring at breakneck speed, the American Foundation for the Blind faces more and greater challenges to make sure blind and visually impaired people benefit equally.

But with the continued support of generous and caring friends like you, AFB can always be there—ensuring that no blind man, woman, or child is left behind. Please renew your support of AFB today!

blind person walking next to outline of person who used to be there
When you’re leaving a blind person, let him know. Otherwise, he might think you’re still there.