When to Help a Vision-Impaired Person …

And When Not To! 


Sometimes vision impaired people want help and sometimes they don’t. How will you know?

Politely ask–but then respect the answer.

As with anyone else, variables enter into it–personality, how much vision a person has,  at what point he or she is in training, what the person is attempting to do, even the mood that day.

I’m always glad to receive help when I’m lost. Or when I’m carrying dinner downstairs. Or when I’m in the shopping center and can’t find what I want.

But there are definitely those times when I want to go it on my own.

Like with my peers.


It was nearly the end of the school year when I gave my talk about vision loss to the rest of the faculty and our  students during the Chapel period.

Right away the teachers became more solicitous. As I feared, they started to do things for me–things I formerly did myself.

It irked me. I felt ill-at-ease.  

School let out. We finished the ceremony for our graduating seniors but I still had the reception to get through yet.  I sat down at a faculty table and chatted. Not long after, a teacher coughed. “Dry throat here. I hear a sparking glass of punch calling my name.”

“Me, too,” I agreed, eyeing the table on the other side of the room.

“I’ll get you one,” she offered immediately. “Do you want a piece of cake while I’m up?”

“Thanks so much. I need some exercise myself, though.”

I jumped up as if I had energy to run marathons.

“Here, hold onto my arm.” She held out her arm, bent at the crook of her elbow.

That was the correct way to be a sighted guide.

I understood that she wanted to help me. She clearly had good intentions. But, for me, accepting help was new and a little unwelcome.

I recalled how my niece, as a toddler,  used to play with a wind-up wooden duck. She’d place it on the kitchen floor and watch it go, clapping her tiny hands when it ran into a chair or the leg of a table. She’d run and retrieve it for me to wind up again.

Perhaps the faculty now viewed me as that wind-up duck. Maybe they thought if they didn’t point me in the right direction or if they let me go, I’d run into something and spin my webbed feet.

Perhaps they saw me as that old duck toy...
I felt like an old wind-up duck

I couldn’t explain this to my colleague, of course, so I simply took her arm. We stopped to greet parents a few times on the way to the punch table. During those interludes, I had a strange desire to quack.

“How about this piece? Or would you like a corner slice? It has more frosting.” Without waiting for my decision, she picked up the corner piece and steered me toward the punch bowl. She released my arm long enough to pour glasses of punch for both of us but took it again.

“Let me help,” I offered, taking my glass of punch. But holding onto someone made me jerky and my hand with the cup tilted slightly and drops of punch tipped out, leaving a splotchy trail all the way back to our table.

I hoped no one saw that it was me. Not a good duck!

“There you go, m’dear,” my colleague said, depositing me nicely beside the chair.

I sat down and took stock of my punch. Half a glass. I sloshed it around in the glass and took a sip. Still cold. The ginger ale gave it a light bubbly flavor. With my finger, I stirred the dollop of melting sherbet, and took another sip. I picked up my fork and tasted a piece of the white cake. The corner piece had twice as much frosting on it. That was actually a good choice.

Suddenly, I recalled the trail of punch leading “home.” Craning my neck, I strained to see how incriminating it might be. By now, feet had trampled and fanned it out.  I covered my mouth and giggled when I realized it looked a lot like a duck actually walked through it with its webbed feet.

“Quack. Quack,” I whispered to myself.


A good rule of thumb is: if a vision-impaired person looks like he or she needs help, ask. If it’s “yes,” certainly do help. If the answer is “no,” respect that answer and don’t insist. 

You have just read, “When to Help a Vision-Impaired Person … and When Not To,” by Amy L. Bovaird. Copyright July 9, 2015. Excerpt from Mobility Matters: Stepping Out in Faith. To purchase this book, click HERE

How are you about accepting help? Do you welcome it or do you tend to be more independent? How about offering? 

When To Help a Vision Impaired Person
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5 thoughts on “When To Help a Vision Impaired Person

  • July 10, 2015 at 3:43 am

    Thanks for sharing and shedding some light on this issue. The more we know and are aware, the more we are able to make life easier for the rest of the world. You are an inspiration.

    Thanks and have a great day

  • July 10, 2015 at 4:15 am

    Hi David,
    At that point, I was still so new to my cane. I was in major adjustment phase. As I said, so much depends on where you are in adapting to your vision loss. Nevertheless, the ask-and-respect-the-the response rule is one of the important “DO’s” when it comes to interacting with a vision impaired person. 🙂
    Thanks for taking time to comment.

  • July 11, 2015 at 2:04 am

    Hi Amy,

    Interesting perspective. It does depend a lot on our level of acceptance and our degree of vision loss. I’ve entered a phase of both where I view help at times as a way of making me more independent rather than less, particularly when I’m out alone and can’t make sense of my environment. Sometimes I am goal driven and destination driven more so that etiquette driven, as long as I get to where I need to be I don’t care how I get there. LOL Even if I gotta put up with a few “quacks” guiding me along. LOL

    Did you know my nickname was Duck as a kid?


  • July 11, 2015 at 2:18 am

    Profound, Anonymous!
    Duck was your nickname? Ha ha!
    Did you know that I had two Pennsylvania ducks when I went to College in West Virginia?
    We are definitely a couple of quacks … Matt!
    Thanks for the chuckle!

  • July 11, 2015 at 3:19 pm

    Quack, quack, quack.
    Someone recently relayed a story to me recently. She was out with two blind people in a busy subway terminal. One of them looked like he was having trouble navigating and a man rushed up to help. The help was not at all wanted at that moment. Angrily, the help was pushed off, and the man walked away looking upset.
    When do we take the help, without saying a word, and when do we not?
    When do we consider the intentions of the person who is offering?
    All good questions. Asking, however, is always preferable.

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