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Definition of Blindness

Blindness Defined

The Houston Council of the Blind uses the same definition for visual impairment as is used by the American Council of the Blind of Texas. It is broader than some other organizations may recognize. The definition is taken from Article III of the HCB Constitution:

"A. Definition of visually impaired: This organization uses the words visually impaired to signify not only those who are legally blind, as defined in the state codes, but also those who are within the definition for use of Library of Congress Talking Books and for those who are within the Post Office Regulations for use of the free matter mailing privilege: Free matter is for the use of the blind or other persons who cannot use or read conventionally printed material because of a physical impairment, who are certified by competent authority as unable to read normal reading material."

The State of Texas White Cane Safety Law:
From the State of Texas Human Resources Code, Title 8:

a.No person may carry a white cane on a public street or highway unless the person is totally or partially blind.
b.The driver of a vehicle approaching an intersection or crosswalk where a pedestrian guided by an assistance animal or carrying a white cane is crossing or attempting to cross shall take necessary precautions to avoid injuring or endangering the pedestrian. The driver shall bring the vehicle to a full stop if injury or danger can be avoided only by that action.
c.The failure of a totally or partially blind or otherwise disabled person to carry a white cane or be guided or aided by an assistance animal does not deprive the person of the rights and privileges conferred by law on pedestrians crossing streets or highways and does not constitute evidence of contributory negligence.
d.A person who violates this section commits a Class C misdemeanor.
Acts 1979, 66th Leg., p. 2428, ch. 842, art. 1, Sec. 1, eff. Sept. 1, 1979. Amended by Acts 1985, 69th Leg., ch. 278, Sec. 5, eff. June 5, 1985; Acts 1997, 75th Leg., ch. 649, Sec. 8, eff. Sept. 1, 1997.

Compiled from various sources & personal experience for the Houston Council of the Blind (October, 2006).

Blind Etiquette
When You Meet a Blind Person remember that every individual has a unique personality and therefore reacts in a unique way to blindness or visual impairment. Visually impaired people, whether they are totally blind (approximately 20 % of the blind population) or have some degree of useful vision may, at times, require the assistance of a sighted guide.

A few tips for interacting with people who are blind and their guide dogs:

When you meet a person who is blind...
  • Treat people who are blind or visually impaired as you would anyone else. They do the same things you do, but sometimes use different techniques.
  • If you were blind, you would want someone to speak to you in a normal voice. Shouting won't improve a person's vision.
  • Talk directly to the person who is blind, not through their companion. Loss of sight is not loss of intellect. If it is a crowded situation, touching the blind person on the arm or back of the hand can let the individual know that you are talking to him or her.
  • When entering or leaving a room, identify yourself and be sure to mention when you are leaving. Address the person by name (if you know it) so they will know you are speaking to them.
  • Don't worry about using common, everyday words and phrases like "look", "see", or "watching TV" around people who are blind. These are simply normal bits of conversation and using them does not display insensitivity.
  • If someone looks like they may need assistance, ask. They will tell you if they do. If they are about to encounter a dangerous situation, voice your concerns in a calm and clear manner.
  • Pulling or steering a person is awkward and confusing. Do NOT grab their arm or their dog's harness.
  • Ask "Would you like me to guide you?" Offering your elbow is an effective and dignified way to lead a person who is blind. Do not be afraid to identify yourself as an inexperienced sighted guide and ask the person for tips on how to improve.
  • If you leave them alone in an unfamiliar area, make sure it is near something they can touch--a wall, table, rail, etc. Being left out in empty space can be very uncomfortable.
  • Be sure to give useful directions. Phrases, such as "across the street" and "left at the next corner" are more helpful than vague descriptions like "over there."
  • In a restaurant, give clear directions to available seats. Your offer to read the menu aloud may be appreciated, but you shouldn't assume that they would not want to order their own food. More restaurants have Braille menus available, but do not assume the blind individual can read Braille.
  • When the food arrives, ask if they would like to know what is on their plate. You can describe the location of food items by using clock position: Your coffee is at 3 o'clock; the sugar is at 1 o'clock.
  • Be considerate. If you notice a spot or stain on a person's clothing tell them privately (just as you would like to be told).
  • Leave doors fully open or completely closed; half-open doors or cupboards are dangerous. Don't rearrange furniture or personal belongings without letting them know. When leaving a table, push your chair back under the table to eliminate the chair as a hazard.
  • Be sensitive when questioning people about their blindness. This is personal information and boundaries should be respected.

Because it is important, let us restate:

People who are blind are just like you and me. Treat them with friendliness and consideration, and speak directly to them, not to the people they may be with.

Offer to guide people who are blind or visually impaired by asking if they would like assistance. Offer them your arm. It is not always necessary to provide guided assistance; in some instances it can be disorienting and disruptive. Respect the desires of the person you are with.

Guide people who request assistance by allowing them to take your arm just above the elbow when your arm is bent. Walk ahead of the person you are guiding.

Never grab a person who is blind or visually impaired by the arm and push him/her forward.

Guide dogs are working mobility tools. Do not pet them, feed them, or distract them while they are working.

More Guide dog information:
  • By law, wherever the handler goes, the dog goes as well.
  • Both dog and human must be individually trained before coming together as a team. Before being accepted to a training program, applicants must be "experienced, independent travelers" through formal Orientation and Mobility (O & M) training or with mobility skills learned from years of experience.
  • New teams take 6 months to a year to develop and learn to work "in sync". It's a little like learning to dance with someone. Both partners know the steps, but it takes time to learn to move as one.
  • Guide Dogs rely on the skills and training of their handlers to tell them when to proceed. If the dog perceives a danger, such as an approaching car or a hole in the street, it will display "intelligent disobedience" and refuse the command. It is then the handler's responsibility to determine what the danger is and wait until it is safe or to change the route. Of course the dog is given lavish praise for a job well done!
  • Guide Dogs are not on duty all the time. When they are at home, they are very much family dogs - playing with the kids, chewing on a (dog-safe) bone or snoozing at their partners' feet.
  • The true value of a guide dog comes clear when the team is faced with a dangerous situation - from a speeding car or a torn-up street, to an unexpected disaster. The high standards of guide dog schools extensive and rigorous training programs give both dog and human partner the means to work through these challenges.
Compiled from various sources & personal experience for the Houston Council of the Blind (October, 2006).

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