Giving Directions to a Person Who Is Blind or Visually Impaired
When giving directions for how to get from one place to another, people who are not visually impaired tend to use gestures—pointing, looking in the direction referred to, etc.—at least as much as they use verbal cues. That isn't helpful to a person who is blind or has a visual impairment. And often even verbal directions are not precise enough for a person who can't see—for example, "It's right over there" or "It’s just around the next corner." Where is "there"? Where is "the next corner"?
Here are basic points to remember when giving directions to anyone who is visually impaired—a friend, relative, or stranger on the street.
- Always refer to a specific direction—right or left as it applies to the person you're advising. What is on your right is on the left of the person facing you.
- Indicate the approximate distance as well as the direction to a requested location.
- Give the approximate number of streets to be crossed to reach the destination. Even if your estimate is off by a block or two, it will give the person a sense of when to stop and ask someone else for further directions in case she or he has overshot the mark.
- If possible, provide information about landmarks along the way.
A large office building, a train station, or a shopping mall are also places where you may be called on to give directions, and the same considerations apply indoors as well as on the street. Here is an example:
"The escalator is directly in front of you about 10 feet away. You’ll hear it as you approach. When you reach the next floor, make a sharp u-turn to the right. Walk along the wall to your left past 4 doors. The office you want is the fifth door.
Keep in mind that both sounds and scents can be "landmarks." In a food hall, for example, the unmistakable smell of popcorn could be a useful landmark for someone headed in that direction. With all the coffee houses on streets in villages, towns, and cities, the scent of freshly brewed coffee may also be a helpful guidepost.
Thinking about how to give tactful, practical directions to someone who is visually impaired can heighten your own sensitivity to the world around you.