Sighted Guide

Sighted Guide is not a Mobility Technique

Working with World Access for the Blind has made us discover, that sighted guide is overused and is often considered to be a mobility technique in it’s own right.  When there is no autonomy, you are teaching dependency.  Freedom of movement and exploration; self directed discovery is not fostered and this will not help in the long run.  Sighted children learn in this way and it is accepted as only right.  Without this, and a cane to facilitate the safe movement, true (not token) independence is less likely if not impossible.

Daniel Kish TED Talk Quote


Words on image:  Imagine every movement of your existence predicated upon someone else.  Someone to direct you.  Someone to show you where to go and what to do.  If you grab onto someone, you might just not let go.  And then what happens to your life?





Self-directed engagement of human assistance need not impair brain development, but regular passive dependence on human assistance can impair brain development through lack of equitability and lack of self-determination.  If the blind person is not directive of her interactions with the environment, whether they are guided or not, then the brain’s decision making and perceptual processes may break down.

Practically speaking, get the hands off the student, and get rid of the “good fairy”. The student should be held responsible for his own self direction. Traditionally, Students and their families were usually taught how to guide or be guided. In the mid 20th century, the idea of a blind person travelling on his own throughout the world in all areas of daily life may have been inconceivable; being guided may have been seen as the most efficient or preferred option.  There is, indeed, a time and place for guiding; all blind people including the most sophisticated and experienced travellers, will choose to make active use of it as situations warrant.  However, this practice has become extremely overused and is implemented in a manner that tends to place the blind student into a role of passive recipient rather than active manager or contributor.  The implications of this are misunderstood from a developmental perspective.  It threatens the integrity of self-directed freedom by eroding the perceptual system.  Guiding is easy – too easy – at least in the short term.

Overuse of a human guide can lead to passive behaviour on behalf of the student and can teach the blind student that the functioning of blind people is best facilitated by sighted people.

“An emphasis on human guide tends to reinforce or even create an expectation on the part of the learner that the appropriate social role of a blind person is a passive one”

(Altman & Cutter, 2004, p74).

Human guiding can cause someone to be whisked through the environment without the opportunity to engage what passes by or to take their own initiative to discover.  Some blind people refer to human guidance as ‘hitching a ride’ due to the impassive nature of the experience for them while being guided.

“Guiding tends to be over-used.  An over-reliance on this skill with children does little to improve their confidence and independent mobility. Children who are guided everywhere don’t get the chance to practice and develop their O & M skills and can become over-dependent on others”

(Scott, 2012, p24).

Rather than focus on teaching everyone how to guide, student efficacy is quickly and dramatically improved when we focus attention on teaching how not to guide.  Teach methods to allow a student to walk with someone or with a group without a need to hold on.  Develop approaches to increase walking speed and improve gait pattern.

Daniel Kish is a Certified Orientation and Mobility Specialist and Developmental Psychologist, and is President of World Access for the Blind.


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