How to Help if You Meet a Person with a Guide Dog

16th November marked the International Day of Tolerance. Members of the blind and
visually impaired community would like to ask the general public for more patience
and support when they are out and about with their guide dogs on public transport.

International Day of Tolerance started in 1996 as an initiative of UNESCO. The main
driving force behind the event is to raise awareness of the dangers of being
intolerant. Barathegyi Guide Dog School for the Blind and Visually Impaired asked its
members: what do they see as the main problems in their everyday life that are the
results of intolerance.

One of the main problems our blind and visually impaired members raised was
unsolicited help from well wishing members of the public. So let’s start by explaining
the three pillars of offering help if you meet a person walking with a guide dog:

  1. Please ask first if the person needs any help.
  2. If they say yes, proceed to discuss what help do they need exactly.
  3. In case they need help with walking, please approach from the opposite side as
    the dog, offer your arm, which the blind person can hold onto and walk slowly.

Intolerant behaviour on public transport

Our visually impaired members often meet people who are eager to help while
travelling on public transport. While this is a positive development, members of the
public are often offering unsolicited help. While many members of the public wish well
when trying to help they are unsure what is the best way of doing so. People walking
with a guide dog are basically able to find their way independently and this should be
respected by members of the public. Let us give you an example. Some eager
helpers are desperate to drag somebody walking with a guide dog across a zebra
crossing without even checking if they wish to go that way! This sadly often happens
to people walking with the white cane as well. Unsolicited or unwanted help is a
major problem nowadays even if the person in question would like to go across the
road.  Our guide dogs are trained to be cooperative and they do not resist if
somebody is walking their owner – these dogs don’t have any traces of aggression.
Our visually impaired friends are completely at the mercy of the well-wishing
strangers; some of them go along not to seem rude but others may complain. Such
incidents cause friction and people trying to help feel disappointed. That’s why it’s
important to learn how to offer help to a blind person.

The best way forward is first to ask the blind person if he/she needs any help. This
can be accompanied with a slight touch of the shoulder of the blind person if you are
in a noisy environment. If the blind person says yes, they do need help than you can
proceed to discuss what do they need help with exactly. Maybe it’s their first time in
the neighbourhood and need some directions. If they are lost and need you to guide
them, please offer your arm for the blind person to hold onto and walk slowly.  Please
avoid grabbing the blind person’s arm and pulling them as this way they are unable to
feel which way you are going and it is very uncomfortable for them to be dragged
around like this.

Other examples of unsolicited help

We already talked about helping blind people across a zebra crossing when they
don’t want to go across but there are other ways of offering unsolicited help by
strangers, all examples given by our members:

People try and guide me when I am getting on or off the bus. I usually say no, thank
you, my dog is able to guide me, I don’t need any help.

People try and offer me their seat on the bus. This is great but can be a bit confusing
because our dogs are taught to look for an empty seat anyway, so no need to offer
up a seat when we get on.

Sometimes the seat offered is too small for my dog to squeeze in. A Labrador needs
a larger space on public transport and if I sit down somewhere where the dog can’t
fit, my dog will be blocking the walk way and people will get annoyed.

When people are trying to help me get on the bus but actually I am trying to get off.

A lot of the times people are trying to help the guide dog, not just by talking to it but
also touching it. This is really uncalled for and makes the dog really confused. People
shouldn’t try and touch the guide dog. Once I had to talk to this person on the bus, he
tried to help us get on but touched my dog and I explained that he shouldn’t do that.
The driver of the bus was great and very patient, waited for us to get on

Blind people can respond to unsolicited offers of help in different ways:

I always stop to explain why I don’t need any help. Sometimes I am in a hurry and
people insist which makes me a bit more assertive but they need to understand that
no means no.

I too try and be polite and say no, thank you, I don’t need any help. If I have time I
explain why, but usually there is no time. If I need to react quickly I just try and pull
my arm away.

I just say a firm no. People need to accept if they are told no, thank you, I don’t need
any help.

We are all different and blind people aren’t an exemption
Another problem we need to draw attention to is when people who are in a rush
bump into a guide person or his/her dog on public transport. Some visually impaired
people need more time to get on or off the bus or tram so please be patient and give
them the time and space they need.

A hairy problem
It is unavoidable that guide dogs shed some dog hair and this is not because they
are not properly looked after. If a blind person is visiting and office or a bank and
his/her dog lies down while they are waiting, some dog hair will unavoidably fall on
the ground. The blind person obviously can’t see this or offer any help in cleaning it
up afterwards. Please show tolerance and empathy towards the blind person and
his/her guide dog who is doing an amazing job.