They say a picture is worth a thousand words, but they would be wrong when it comes to helping a blind person get oriented in a new place. I have a new mantra, whenever a well-meaning sighted person tries to get me to a chair by pushing me, grabbing my dog’s leash, or worse, the harness, or says right over here. I try to freeze, stand perfectly still and say “Please use words”. I’m surprised at how effective this practice can be. The first impulse is to try to steer me. I know they want to be helpful, but in my mind, that’s manhandling. Using words like “to your right,” turn to 9:00” or “straight ahead about 3 steps.” There is also a tendency to “help” me find a seat by physically turning me around, hands on my shoulders with a little push, toward the chair. I never sit down until I have found the chair with my hand or the front of my knees. The most effective way to help, especially if the chair is not against the wall is to discretely place my hand on the back of the chair. This way, I will not only be aware of exactly where the chair is, but also, I will no which way the chair is facing. I can’t tell you how many times, I’ve sat down, only to realize that it’s not a bench with no back, but that’s I’ve sat on the chair facing sideways.
I am blessed to have a few savvy friends who make finding a place in a restaurant as smooth and efficient as possible. When we approach the table, they will say, “Take the chair to your left,” or they will say, “the table is on your right,” and when I touch the table to my right, I then can slide into the booth almost gracefully. With a guide dog to get settled as well, it might take an extra minute or 2, especially when your dog is like mine, feeling a compulsion to clean up the floor with her tongue before she settles in. But once you’ve practiced this a couple of times, it becomes quite natural and does not draw attention. I love it when I stand up after a meal, and someone says, “Oh, I didn’t even know that dog was under that table.” We who are blind don’t want to make a scene when we enter an establishment, a meeting, or a church service. We want to blend in, be regarded as any other patron, participant, or worshiper, and the best way to accomplish this is to use words.