Friends and family have often expressed to me and my sister their concern over whether they are being helpful when we’re out and about.
We have told people there is no right or wrong way, and no specific expectation, This is half-true. I posted a list of tips and pet peeves a couple years ago, though looking over it now, it may be too detailed to remember.
Some friends have observed our husbands’ interactions with us and followed their lead. This is an overall wise idea, as our men have been with us long enough to help us seamlessly. My husband, however, has been known to be so laid-back and hands-off that I have walked into signs and fallen down a flight of stairs walking right next to him! This may be why he recently told me that he feels excited when I pull out my cane.
I still struggle with regular cane use, except when we’re on vacation. When we’re traveling, I feel free from worries over who’s watching me, since we’re surrounded by strangers. Plus, vacation spots are always unfamiliar territories, so my cane literally becomes my tour guide….. not to mention my entrance into the fast-lane through airport security, ticket to boarding the plane early, and most recently, my magic wand whisking our family through the handicapped entrances to the front of the lines at Disneyland. I would feel guilty about taking advantage of these benefits, but let’s face it, there really does have to be some perks when going blind from a degenerative retinal disease Why else would anyone sign up for RP? .
So if I’m not carrying my cane, and my husband is not nearby to observe, there’s one, all-encompassing phrase that I’ve found to be most comfortable if you’re concerned whether I’m struggling.
“Need An Arm?”
This puts the pressure back on me (or whoever you’re helping), where it belongs. I’m then able to either say “no thank you, I’ve got this” or “Yes, please!”
If the response is the latter, simply stick your elbow out. If you’re standing to my right, stick out your left elbow, and vice versa. This is considered “best practice” for guiding a blind person, and for a good reason. If you were to grab, push or pull a person with low or no vision, it can be disorienting, especially if someone is trying to “steer” you. When you offer your arm, I’m able to feel your movements and follow along. My personal favorite thing to do with close friends and family is link arms. I’m not sure if this is recommended practice, but it feels most natural (and fun!) to me, like we’re best buds going for a stroll as opposed to “being led forth by my sighted guide”! Of course, if you’re a stranger on the street, let’s stick to the elbow.
Of course, if someone is about to literally fall down steps or get hit by a car, do all the shoving and pulling you need to prevent a fatality. Also, sometimes even with a cane, guiding is helpful, so it never hurts to offer, unless you’re constantly hovering.
There you have it, a fool-proof way to be helpful without being overbearing.