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by Abigail Van Buren

Blind Lead Way With Some Commonsense Suggestions

DEAR ABBY: You recently ran a letter from a woman who gave a few tips on what sighted people should do when they meet a blind person. As president of the American Foundation for the Blind, and a blind person myself, I believe I can add a few more points of etiquette your readers may find helpful:

1. Speak to people who are blind or visually impaired using a natural conversational tone and speed. Do not speak loudly and slowly unless the person also has a hearing impairment.

2. Address blind people by name when possible. This is especially important in crowded places.

3. Immediately greet blind people when they enter a room or service area. This lets them know you are present and ready to assist.

4. Indicate the end of a conversation with a blind person in order to avoid the embarrassment of leaving a person speaking when no one is actually there.

5. Feel free to use words that refer to vision when conversing with blind people. Words such as "look," "see" and "watching TV" are part of everyday communication. The words "blind" and "visually impaired" are also acceptable in conversation.

6. Do not leave a blind person standing in "free space" when you serve as a guide. Also, be sure that the person you guide has a firm grasp on your arm or is leaning against a chair or a wall if you have to be separated momentarily.

7. Be calm and clear about what to do if you see a blind person about to encounter a dangerous situation. For example, if the person is about to bump into something, calmly and firmly call out, "Wait there for a moment; there is an obstruction in your path."

Abby, thanks for giving me the opportunity to provide this information. If your readers have any questions about blindness and visual impairment, the American Foundation for the Blind has a toll-free information line, (800) 232-5463, and a Web site, www.afb.org. -- CARL R. AUGUSTO, PRESIDENT, AMERICAN FOUNDATION FOR THE BLIND, NEW YORK

DEAR CARL: Thank you for the excellent input. I'm sure my readers will find it of interest. In addition to your letter, I also heard from David M. McGown, executive director of the Guild for the Blind in Chicago, offering pointers for the general public when interacting with blind people:

-- Address the person directly, and not through someone else.

-- If you think a person needs assistance, ASK FIRST. Don't assume you should help. Let the person choose to accept help or not.

-- When offering assistance, never take someone by the arm who is blind or visually impaired; and never take hold of a white cane or guide dog. If you offer your arm instead, the person can follow a half-step behind and anticipate changes.

-- When guiding someone to a chair, place his/her hand on the back of the chair.

-- Remember, people who are blind or visually impaired are people first -- people who have feelings and lives just like you do. Many of them like movies and sports and have interests of their own. Treat a person who has a visual disability with the same courtesy and respect you would give to anyone else.

For more information about the Guild for the Blind and its services, write: 180 N. Michigan Ave., Suite 1700, Chicago, Ill. 60601-7463 or call (312) 236-8569.

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