Have you ever been in the position of having to direct a blind person to a chair? To the door? To the counter? For some reason, this seems to be a monumental puzzle for many people, but it’s really quite easy, if you just learn your right hand from your left.
Yesterday, a sighted friend took me to a community center to go swimming. The first thing I had to remind her of was not to give directions to my guide dog. Instead of saying, “Come on Pippen,” she should have said, “We’re going to go to the left.”
When we got ready to get into the pool, and after I had secured Pippen to a bench, near the pool, my friend, whom I’ll call Joan, (not her real name) said, “here’s the ladder.” Where was “here?” To make my entry into the pool more graceful, she should have guided me to the ladder, and then put my hand on the railing. That way, I could have been oriented to the ladder. The same method should be used when guiding a person to a chair. If you put her hand on the back of the chair, she will know which way to sit on the chair. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve sat sideways on a chair until I finally located the back. Back to the pool. After I got into the water, I asked Joan where the lane divider was, because I moved along to my left where I thought it should be and couldn’t find it. She said, “Right over here.” Where was “here?” It turned out that the ladder was on the side of the pool, not at the end, which I was expecting. I should have known better, but it was the first time I had been to that pool. It would have been easier for me if Joan had taken the time to say, “When you go down the ladder, you’ll be facing the side of the pool. Go to your right, and you’ll be at the shallow end.” Once I was oriented, I had a glorious time swimming laps.
In the changing room, we faced our final challenge of the day. It was a family changing room, which was great for me. I didn’t have to navigate a complicated route from locker to shower and back. Everything was in one small room. I asked Joan to tell me where everything was, starting with the chair. Again, she said “It’s right here.” I guessed she meant near where she was standing, so I went to the chair and used it as my reference point. “where is the shower?” I asked. “The shower is straight ahead.” “Straight ahead” is a pretty useless direction, because it is dependent on which way the person is facing as to whether or not it is accurate. Totally blind people need literal directions, and straight ahead, more than a few steps, is rarely useful. After she left the room, I explored the space, by starting with the chair and walking around the perimeter. I discovered a changing table in the left-hand corner. Then when I turned right, there was the shower, and next to it on the right hand wall was the toilet and sink. The shower was not straight ahead at all but in the right-hand corner of the room. But Joan was standing in front of it when I asked her, and I was facing her, so that translated to “straight ahead.” This sounds much more complicated than it is. A better way of describing the room would be, “The chair is to your left. As you go around the room, you’ll come to a changing table, and then the shower to your right. On the right-hand wall are the toilet and sink..” Another way would be to use the clock method. “Starting from the chair, the shower is at 2:00, etc.” A simple rule to remember is, eliminate the use of “right here,” and “over there.” That will force you to use “right” and left,” but that does mean you will have to know your right hand from your left.
The next time we go, I’ll make it easier for Joan by asking her specific questions, like “Is it on our right?” And if she says, “It’s right over here,” I’ll push her into the pool!