Getting a Grip: Thoughts on Using a Human Guide

June 24, 2013 | 3 Comments

by George Abbott, Guest Blogger

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George and Polly Abbott using sighted guide while strolling their neighborhood

Considerations for Your Guide

Many of us who travel with a long white cane or dog guide may choose to benefit from the services of a human guide from time to time. Noisy, crowded unfamiliar areas, such as an airport or major train station, a buffet line, or construction site, to name a few.

While attempting to meet our personal needs and preferences, sometimes we may not be as considerate of our guide or assistant. Here are some aspects and perspectives to consider that may maximize your efficiency, put your guide at ease and increase the likelihood of someone continuing to serve as a guide for others in the future.

Keep Your Cool

Your guide wants to help but may get flustered and be uncertain as to what to do.  Taking on the responsibility of leading you through tight spaces, such as through a crowded restaurant, or facing the challenges of getting through a revolving door or stepping on an escalator can be stressful in the extreme for new guides. You can put them at ease by explaining how you wish to be assisted in a pleasant and relaxed voice.

Get a Grip

It is customary to grasp your guide’s arm just above the elbow. In certain situations, as determined by one’s height or other factors, holding the guide’s arm near the wrist or elsewhere may be better. The consideration is the proper amount of pressure. Do not squeeze the arm as if your hand is a blood pressure cuff. You do not want the guide to feel pain or as if he is being held against his will. You also do not want to hold on with your fingertips with a light touch. This causes you to lose your grip if the guide needs to move her arm abruptly.

Don’t Be Back-Handed

Another consideration, and one that is a bit more sensitive, particularly when being guided by a female, is being extra careful that the back of your hand does not come into contact with the side of her body. More than one woman has shared with me that she believes a blind guy she was guiding was using the back of his hand to check out her figure. They vow to never again offer assistance to blind men or a particular person with a reputation for groping. Consider how you can prevent the backs of your fingers from accidentally brushing the side of your guide’s body to avoid the perception of taking advantage of somebody’s kindness.

Take Hold

Some of us prefer to use our canes or dogs while receiving verbal directions. In many settings this is perfectly appropriate, but you might consider taking hold of your guide’s arm in some situations. There are times when an environment is crowded or requires multiple turns in tight spaces, such as maneuvering to a seat in the middle of a banquet hall full of closely placed tables. It can be much faster and less stressful to your guide if she can have you holding onto her arm, rather than continuously giving you verbal directions.

Even when on a wide open, familiar sidewalk, I often hold onto my companion’s arm. This is not because I am being lazy or have trouble navigating the environment. It has more to do with being able to concentrate on conversation. Constantly giving verbal directions, as if operating a remote control toy, can quickly get exhausting for your guide. Complex environments with no straight or clear paths usually do not translate into easily given verbal directions. If you notice your guide stuttering and sounding tongue-tied, it’s time to request an elbow to hang on to.

Maintain Your Cover

Holding onto someone serving as a guide does not transfer the responsibility for your safety to the guide—especially for inexperienced guides. You still need to be alert to your environment and protect yourself by properly using your cane or dog using the appropriate technique for the situation.

Share with Us

What tips do you have for building a comfortable relationship with your guide? What situations have created awkward moments that were avoidable? Share your comments with us.

George Abbott has been a blind traveler all his life.  He is currently a cane user but was a guide dog user in the past.  He currently works as the Director of eLearning for the American Foundation for the Blind (AFB).

3 comments on “Getting a Grip: Thoughts on Using a Human Guide”

  1. bethfinke says:

    Reblogged this on Safe & Sound blog and commented:
    After my first book Long Time, No See was published, I spent weeks on the phone begging bookstores to have me come and do a book signing. I particularly wanted to land a gig at the ever-popular Book Stall in Winnetka, Ill., but when I called Book Stall owner Roberta Rueben, she didn’t sound interested. What to do? Play the blind Card, of course.”The Hadley School for the Blind is right there in Winnetka, isn’t it?” I asked. Roberta admitted she’s always wondered about that place. “How about I do a booksigning, and then have someone from Hadley come and talk about the school, too? ” Even over the phone, I could tell Roberta’s eyes were lighting up. She knew a lot of people who wondered about that Hadley place, and a dual presentation like this might bring a crowd.I didn’t know a soul at Hadley back then, but these were desperate times. I called the Hadley School, pleaded my case, and they liked the idea so much they sent George Abbott, the Dean of Education, over. George charmed the crowd, I sold a lot of books, and Roberta has been championing my writing ever since.I made a new friend in George Abbott that night, and I really liked this guest post he wrote for Second Sense’s blog – it gives a different look, ahem, on lending an arm to someone who is blind. I think you’ll like it, too.Add your thoughts here… (optional)

  2. Hava says:

    I would recommend that a blind person never take a guide for granted. I was willing to help a blind man living on my block, but then he came to expect me to be at his beck and call and even started asking me to do other things for him, like do his laundry and mow his lawn – all this without ever offering compensation. I learned from a mutual acquaintance that this blind man referred to me as “a sucker”. It was a hard lesson to learn and I no longer help this person or even speak to him. That said, i still support the blind enthusiastically. I raise guide dog puppies. I hope none of the recipients of the pups i raised think of me as a sucker!

    1. I know Puppy Raisers work hard and love greatly! They are truly awesome! Thank you for everything you do from me and many other like-minded blind people with guide dogs.

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