A couple is navigating down some stairs together.

The Sighted Guide Technique

I met a young lady with a visual impairment the other day. The comment was made she could see nothing in the dark. She had to hang on to her companions for dear life! Either that or stand in one spot. All rather inconvenient at any age but a particular problem when you are young and living a semi-nocturnal lifestyle.

I have fond memories of my semi-nocturnal lifestyle at that age. I had a totally enjoyable, misspent youth rolling out of dance club and going for breakfast at 3:00 a.m. but that is not what I think I should discuss here. Here I should discuss sighted guides.

Sighted guides

We have all seen visually impaired folks who are being propelled along by others. It is almost painful to watch. This is NOT a sighted guide. Sighted guides lead. They do not push.

The sighted guide technique

I found a nice piece on the sighted guide technique by the Sight Connection. It confirms what I was taught. The visually impaired person stands slightly behind and to the side of her guide. The VIP holds on lightly to the guide’s tricep just above the elbow. She does not wrap her fingers around and clutch the bicep.

There to guide you, not hold you

For you folks who have not done any time in a lifting gym, the tricep is in the back of the upper arm. The bicep is in the front. Don’t wrap your hand around and hold on for dear life. He is guiding you, not holding you up. Besides, if you fall forward, a grip from the rear will keep you from going too far. A front grip on the bicep may slip and you could crack your nose into his shoulder.

Signs for the VIP

To go through doorways and other narrow places, the sighted guide moves his elbow towards the rear and a bit behind him. That is the sign for the VIP to step behind him. Back in the clear? The sighted guide pulls his elbow forward and out and the VIP follows, taking up her usual position slightly behind and slightly to the side.

Verbal cues

Verbal cues from the sighted guide are always helpful. With any luck, things like stairs and curbs will be announced. However, if he loses track of what he is doing and does not announce them, a change in his relative position - up or down - from you will give you some warning.

This is another reason for not having a death grip on your sighted guide. If he steps down, you don’t want to be pitched forward and down without being ready. A lighter grip will allow you to let go quickly.

Also with stairs, it is a good idea for the sighted guide to tell the VIP where the handrail is. If the VIP is on the left and the handrail is on the right, a switch may need to be made at the top or bottom of the flight, not on the stairs!

Ask if your help is required

The Sight Connection piece is a nice, little primer on sighted guiding. It does not, however, include one point I think is important for the guide. Specifically? ASK if your help is required. The VIP may have decent orientation and mobility skills and be able to travel on her own. Equally as possible is she does not trust you not to run her into a pole! It is up to the VIP if she wants the help.

There you have it, sighted guide.

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