Tip #3 for Successful Interactions with Blind People: Tips for Verbal Guiding

Wow! The response to Tip #1 and Tip #2 continues to pleasantly surprise me. I’m humbled by your questions and thoughtful comments and, of course, by the outpouring of support for this little column.

Here is Tip #3. In Tip #2, we discussed how to approach human guiding and talked about the two most common forms of it: elbow guiding and verbal guiding.

Today’s tip was inspired by a Facebook comment Micaele Florendo left on Tip #2. Micaele writes: “… With voice guiding, I don’t know what level of details to provide, what landmarks are actually helpful for navigation, how to describe distances? Some insight on how to give verbal guidance would be helpful!” Thank you, Micaele, for your great questions.

When starting out a voice guiding session, it may be helpful to ask the blind person what level of detail they need and also to let them know that they can let you know if they need more or less detail. I usually say something like, “What kind of information would you like me to provide?” and follow it up with, “feel free to let me know if you want me to give more or less detail.” Once you’ve worked with a person a time or two, you will start to get into a good rhythm with them and get to know their needs but never be afraid to communicate.

Having said the above, here are some general tips and tricks for verbal guiding based on my experience as a blind person and as a human guide for other blind folks.

When it comes to what level of detail to provide when voice guiding, I find the best default level is to give obstacles and larger fixed landmarks such as stairs, benches, down curbs, etc. These help us mentally map out an environment and then, eventually, we may not need voice guidance. However, we all mentally map at our own pace and some of us will take more time to create a mental map.

Smaller, non-fixed landmarks, such as a traffic cone that won’t be there in half an hour, are less important unless they are a matter of safety, such as if the traffic cone indicates a big hole.

Also, never be shy to point out features you think may be of interest, such as, “we’re passing a coffee station on your left” or “our conference room is over to your right.” Some people enjoy hearing about interesting features, such as the nice blue flowers we are passing, but some do not. A blind person can let you know if they would like more or less information and this communication is probably your best measurement tool when doing voice guidance.

When describing distances, I’ve often found it easiest to do that in feet rather than steps. Since human strides vary, steps tend to be imprecise. Metric measurements work well, too, though personally, having grown up around the construction industry, I’m more used to feet when it comes to distances. Again, you can indicate to a blind person that you are okay with them telling you what they need.

My last voice guidance tip for today is about the two forms of …voice guidance. What I’ve been describing so far is the situation where a human guide directs a blind person by voice. The other is the follow method, where a human guide simply keeps up a natural conversation wile the blind person follows, participating in that conversation. These two forms are not mutually exclusive and, in practice, it will often be that a combination approach is taken naturally.

Periodically We’ll be posting tips and tricks about blindness and DeafBlindness. If you’ve ever had a burning question about blindness or DeafBlindness or how to best assist a person who is blind or DeafBlind, please don’t hesitate to reach out and we’ll try to answer it in this series. Questions can be submitted by contacting us or by calling the Bowen Island Accessibility Group’s Community Mailbox at +1 (604) 947-9021, extension 123. Let us know what you think. What do you want to know?

Check out more tips and tricks in our Tips and Tricks corner.