Negotiating sighted guide while social distancing

Using sighted guide techniques is paramount for those traveling with a vision impairment. While safely latching on to an elbow, stumbling, tripping and falling can be avoided. Additionally, physical human closeness, guidance and touch are the foundations of how people with visual impairments connect with the world. But ever since the coronavirus appeared, everyone has been requested to practice social distancing. This means staying six feet apart from others at all times. No hugs, handshakes and no sighted guide assistance. Negotiating sighted guidance while social distancing can be tricky, but it is not impossible. 

Use more verbal communication

When using sighted guide techniques, a certain amount of verbal communication is needed to indicate the direction and location of objects like stairs and curbs, and to describe surroundings. Now, with the pandemic, it is even more important to communicate verbally. Stores, restaurants, office buildings and public transportation have installed new visual signs and markers to reflect social distancing. A person with vision impairment may not see or be aware of these posted signs. Because of this, it is important to ask for verbal cues. A sighted guide can tell you when to move up in a line, when people are getting too close, and assist with keeping six feet apart. Communication with a sighted guide is helpful in navigating situations like these.

Travel during off peak times

Travel during off peak times to avoid large crowds and prevent the spread of the virus. Going places when the crowds are smaller makes sighted guidance easier because of the decreased foot traffic. If your sighted guide is a friend or family member, check in advance for hours of operation and find out the best time to arrive. Be sure to also investigate whether your destination offers dedicated hours for the disabled and seniors; going during these times can make your errands much easier and more comfortable for you.

Carry a white cane for identification

Some people with visual impairments might not want or need to use a white cane. But with social distancing orders in place, a white cane helps in identification and is even more critical. This can help when requesting a sighted guide in grocery stores, office buildings or medical facilities. People will see the white cane and understand that you may need assistance. In addition to the white cane, don’t be shy about communicating that you are visually impaired–advocate for yourself. Let people know you have a disability and need help. 

Use a ramble tag

The Ramble Tag is a guidance aid that is designed to be worn on the upper arm of a sighted guide. This device was created to increase independence while walking and enhancing security and safety. It is a comfortable alternative to holding an elbow, allowing for free movement, without physical contact. This lightweight harness is an option for negotiating sighted guidance while practicing social distancing.

Access assistive technology

Sighted guide assistance doesn’t always have to come in the traditional format of physical, direct contact. Some smartphone apps can provide needed visual support. Be My Eyes and AIRA are two examples of virtual assistance apps where sighted people access the camera and microphone through a live video call to provide assistance. Call up a sighted agent for help with navigating the outside world, maneuvering indoors and practicing social distancing.

People with a visual impairment typically rely on being in close proximity to interact and engage with their surroundings. Some may feel that during this pandemic, social distancing means social isolation. But working creatively and negotiating with a sighted guide can open doors to independence and connection.

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