by Gina Martin –
No one—especially when you cannot see well or at all—wants to be grabbed, pushed, or pulled by strangers.
People with good intentions often do this. It is frightening! We know best what help we may or may not need.
- If you suspect danger, you can loudly say: “Excuse me! Hey! Person using the white cane or with the guide dog, STOP! There is an electric car or bike approaching quickly!” Yelling “Look out!” or “Watch out!” is not helpful as we do not know what we should be looking out for.
- Before jumping in to help, introduce yourself. Example: “Hi, I am Lisa.” Your voice introduction allows us to make a connection that we are unable to do visually.
- Always ask first if help is wanted. If someone says “no,” it’s not meant unkindly or to offend. “No” this time does not mean help won’t be appreciated another time. If the answer is “yes,” your next question is “How can I best assist you?”
- When you know our name, it is helpful when you use it to greet or address us. Saying “Hi, Gina” lets me know for sure that you are talking to me. Often, many of us who have low to no vision don’t always know it is us that you are talking too.
- When you introduce yourself to us and tell us your name, it allows us to make a connection with you that we cannot do visually. Example: “Hello, I am Shelly the store manager,” or “Hello, I am Brian, we met a couple times at the bus stop.” This helps us identify who you are.
- When you say, “Hi, Gina, this is Cory from the flower shop on Maple Street,” you get my attention, I know for sure you are talking to me, and I know who I am talking with. We can then have a normal interaction with each other.
- It can often be difficult to identify someone by voice alone—even if we know you well. Surrounding sounds can interfere with our ability to recognize a voice—even ones that are familiar to us. The sounds of daily life like traffic, kids playing, coffee brewing, photocopiers printing, people talking, or music playing in the background are distractions that can take away from identifying you by your voice.
- Being quiet and not announcing your presence to those of us who are blind or partially sighted can feel very unsettling—even scary for some of us because we cannot visually see your intentions. Please use your voice and just say “Hello.” We take your Hello as that nod, smile, or acknowledgement people with sight give each other throughout the day. When you do this, you are treating us like everyone else and that is all we really want.
- If you want to shake our hand, it is appreciated when you let us know, as many of us may not see your gesture. Saying something like, “I’m extending my hand to shake yours,” or “May I shake your hand,” works just fine.
- Please do say “Goodbye,” “See you later,” or “I’ve got to go” when you leave so we don’t continue talking to someone who is no longer there.
When you notice us, say “Hello,” introduce yourself, and learn our name so the next time we meet we will know who you are and we can share a friendly moment together.
Gina Martin is a blindness professional with lived experience around vision loss. Her Diverse Abilities program provides education and training to helps empower individuals living with or without a disability to feel comfortable in all aspects of life.
For more information, please visit www.diverseabilities.ca.