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AFBAmerican Foundation®
for the Blind

Expanding possibilities for people with vision loss

Walking with a Sighted Guide

Often, people with vision loss need some assistance with walking safely outside their familiar environment. Perhaps a friend or family member may try to help by holding your hand or having you rest your hand on his or her shoulder. While well intended, these methods are NOT safe and can lead to accidents. The following skills are designed to help you and your guide maximize safety and efficiency when walking together.

Family members can easily act as a sighted guide.

A daughter acts as a man's sighted guide when they go to a restaurant

General Position

Hold your guide's arm just above the elbow with your thumb on the outside of the guide's arm and your fingers wrapped over the arm to the other side (as if you are holding a soda can). The grip should be firm enough so that you don't lose contact with the guide, but not so firm that the guide is uncomfortable.

Man holding 

guide's arm, using appropriate grip

A person with vision loss grips the sighted guide's arm just above the elbow.

Your guide should walk a half step in front of you and to the side. Your left foot should be in line with the guide's right, or vice versa depending on where you are comfortable. As you begin to walk, your guide should always remain in front, explaining the terrain ahead. Maintain verbal contact throughout.

Narrow Spaces

If the two of you are approaching a narrow space, your guide should signal the change by putting his hand behind his back. You then move to a position directly behind your guide and slide your hand down to the guide's wrist.

Curbs, Stairs and Other Drop Offs

When approaching the drop off, your guide should stop with his or her toes close to the drop off and announce: "Curb up," or "Stairs going down." Then, the guide should step forward and allow you to find the stair or curb with your toes. If there is a handrail, your guide should always position you on the side of the handrail and let you know where it is so you may use it.

When traveling down stairs, you should remain one step behind your guide. Ask your guide to use a rhythm as you both take the drop off so that when the guide steps with his/her right foot, you do the same.

When approaching the end of the stairs, the guide should signal, "Last step." This lets you know that there's no need to raise or lower your foot for an additional step.

Tell your guide that it's helpful to know how many steps are involved—such as, "We are going to go up three steps." Or, "We are going down several steps and I will tell you when we get to the last one."

Doors

When going through a door, you will need to know two things from your guide: 1) Does the door open to the right or to the left? and 2) Does the door open out or in? If the door opens on the right, you should be on the guide's right side. If the door opens on the left, you should be on the guide's left side. This may require a change of sides.

Use the upper body protection technique to locate the doorway. If the door is closed, your guide should open it and you can then locate the doorknob and keep the door open as you both pass through, shutting it behind you.

Tip Sheet for the Sighted (Human) Guide

If your spouse or other family member functions as your primary guide when you travel, it's very important that he or she be trained by a licensed O&M specialist. In the meantime, here are some tips every sighted guide should know:

1. When approaching someone with vision loss who appears to need help, ask, "Do you need assistance?" Do not assume the person needs help. Typically, people with vision loss know where they are going and do not need assistance.

2. If the person does need assistance, touch the back of your hand to the back of the person's hand. (Announce that you are going to do this first.) This gives the person an idea of where your arm is located.

3. Ask, "Where do you need to go?"

4. Do not leave the person you're guiding in the middle of an open area. Guide him or her to the final destination before letting go, and tell the person you are leaving.

5. Act as the person's eyes. Remember, he or she is counting on you to provide accurate information about the environment. Announce obstacles, such as a curb, stairs, or other danger points, before getting to them.

6. Remember to frequently check over your shoulder on the side that the person is walking on for potential obstructions and other danger points.

Sighted Guide Video

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Sighted Guide Video (Windows Media)
Sighted Guide Video (Quicktime)
Transcript of Sighted Guide Video

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