Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Blind Etiquette and Guide Dog Etiquette

Yesterday was White Cane Safety Day!

On the 15th of October, 1964 President Lyndon B. Johnson made a proclamation designating the day as White Cane Safety Day to recognize blind and visually impaired individuals and their achievements.  The white cane serves as a symbol of independence and mobility.  The long, straight cane is a valuable tool used to detect objects in the path, allowing the user to navigate with confidence and safety.  A white cane is an international symbol to alert others of the user’s visual impairment.

My husband is legally blind.  He lost the majority of his vision in 2008 due to a traumatic brain injury (TBI) sustained in 2006.  In fact, nearly 74% of TBI patients experience visual complaints ranging from light sensitivity and double vision to vision-threatening complications and blindness.  Visual pathways in the brain are very complex and aren't completely understood yet, making diagnosis and treatment difficult, especially when combined with TBI.

During blind rehabilitation training, my husband learned to use a long white cane as part of his orientation and mobility training.  He received training on using a GPS device which allows him to maneuver about the neighborhood without losing his bearings.  Last fall, we welcomed a guide dog into our home.  All of these mobility devices (and many more) have increased his level of independence and feelings of confidence.
I have included etiquette guidelines below, but will pause to add a personal commentary.  Please use courtesy and caution when you see a person using a white cane or with a guide dog.  While most people we encounter are respectful and understanding, numerous times we encounter someone who tries to cut him off or quickly jump in front of him.  This is not only rude, it is not safe for either party.  It’s important to remember that many individuals using a mobility device, like my husband, have some usable vision…which means he may be able to see you rushing to get past his cane.  Be aware of your surroundings and extend a courtesy to those who use a mobility device.

Blind Etiquette Tips from the Blinded Veterans Association

When you address a blind person, identify yourself immediately so there is no mystery as to who you are.
Speak directly to a blind person so the individual can follow your voice.

Don’t assume that a blind person is unable to participate in certain activities. Let that person make the decision.

When guiding a blind person, offer your arm for assistance. A blind person can anticipate your movements by walking slightly behind you.

When you’re leaving … say so.

It’s okay to use words like “look,” “see,” and “blind.” Avoiding them may make a blind person self-conscious.

Offer understanding, consideration, and friendship to a blind person – not pity!

Caution a blind person about ascending or descending stairs, curbs, or obstacles.

Offer assistance when you see a blind person trying to cross a busy intersection, but don’t be discouraged by a “No, thank you.”

Offer to read newspapers, magazines, and other printed material for a blind person.

Let blind people speak for themselves – they don’t need interpreters.

When speaking to a blind person, don’t raise your voice. Remember, that person is blind, not deaf.

Don’t distract a guide dog from his main purpose of safely leading his master. Ask for permission before petting.

Guide Dog Etiquette from Guide Dogs for the Blind

As tempting as it may be to pet a Guide Dog, remember that this dog is responsible for leading someone who cannot see. The dog should never be distracted from that duty. A person's safety may depend on their dog's alertness and concentration.

It is okay to ask someone if you may pet their guide. Many people enjoy introducing their dogs when they have the time. The dog's primary responsibility is to its blind partner and it is important that the dog not become solicitous.

A Guide Dog should never be offered food or other distracting treats. The dogs are fed on a schedule and follow a specific diet in order to keep them in optimum condition. Even slight deviations from their routine can disrupt their regular eating and relieving schedules and seriously inconvenience their handlers. Guide Dogs are trained to resist offers of food so they will be able to visit restaurants without begging. Feeding treats to a Guide Dog weakens this training.

Although Guide Dogs cannot read traffic signals, they are responsible for helping their handlers safely cross a street. Calling out to a Guide Dog or intentionally obstructing its path can be dangerous for the team as it could break the dog's concentration on its work.

Listening for traffic flow has become harder for Guide Dog handlers due to quieter car engines and the increasing number of cars on the road. Please don't honk your horn or call out from your car to signal when it is safe to cross.  This can be distracting and confusing. Be especially careful of pedestrians in crosswalks when making right-hand turns at red lights.

It's not all work and no play for a Guide Dog. When they are not in harness, they are treated in much the same way as pets. However, for their safety they are only allowed to play with specific toys. Please don't offer them toys without first asking their handler's permission.

In some situations, working with a Guide Dog may not be appropriate. Instead, the handler may prefer to take your arm just above the elbow and allow their dog to heel. Others will prefer to have their dog follow you. In this case, be sure to talk to the handler and not the dog when giving directions for turns.

A Guide Dog can make mistakes and will need reminders to maintain its training. Correcting a mistake usually involves a time-out or leash action. When the dog regains focus and correctly follows a cue, he or she is frequently praised and rewarded with a kibble. Guide Dog handlers have been taught appropriate management methods to use with their dogs.

Access laws, including the United States' Americans with Disabilities Act and Canada's Blind Persons' Rights Act, permit people who are blind to be accompanied by their guide dogs anywhere the general public is allowed, including taxis and buses, restaurants, theaters, stores, schools, hotels, apartment and office buildings.

Before asking a question of a person handling a dog, allow them to complete the task at hand.

Remain calm in your approach and mannerisms.

Never tease a dog.

Submitted By: Melissa


  1. God Bless your husband and thank you to him for serving his country!!! We may not always agree with the war or conflict we are involved in but we MUST always treat our servicemen and women with admiration and respect-even when our own government does not!!!

  2. I too am married to a blinded veteran. Our guide dog was his best friend. Everyone at the VA knew Mateo the black lab. He worked so hard for my husband and was the best creature God ever created. We had to put him down a few years ago. He lived 11 years until his hind quarters gave out and he began to lose bodily function control and worse. To this day I still see those big brown eyes telling me how embarrassed he was as I cleaned up after him. Guide Dogs are more human than some humans. I have never known another dog like him and doubt I ever will. My husband refuses to get another. We moved to the country and live far from the big city.

    I would add one thing to Blind Etiquette, People need to talk TO THE VETERAN, not the spouse when they ask if they can pet or how old the dog is or whatever conversation they have. While my husband is legally blind (as opposed to illegally blind? go figure) he has light perception in one eye and can tell by sound that someone is not talking to him. Don't make the Veteran feel like he isn't there. Okay, I'm through venting. And I believe in the BVA. Volunteered many years. God Bless you and yours.