Four Rules for Getting Assistance

A friendly waitress pushes open the door of the women's restroom for me
A friendly waitress pushes open the door of the women’s restroom for me

There is a lot to hate about losing your sight, and having to ask for help from strangers is right up there. After a long time it can get to be quite fun sometimes (no really!). But at first it’s beyond awful. There are you, a paid-up member of the human race, having to ask for assistance with simple things as if you were still in first grade.

How can you ask for help and get what you need while retaining your self-respect and some control over what happens?

Here are the four rules which will let you do all of these things:

(The first one is a lot to swallow and there will be a blog post on this topic soon.)


Rule 1: Mention your vision loss in a few simple words.


“I’m having trouble with my eyes.”

“I’ve been having vision problems.”

“My sight is not too good these days.”

“I can see very little.”

“I am blind.” (but only if you have no useable vision – people get suspicious if you say you are blind when you appear to see where they are standing or whatever.)

Do not say: “I am legally blind,” or “I have glaucoma with retinal detachment and congenital cataracts.” The first makes the public confused and the second may make them nauseous!

Rule 2: Use a confident, cheerful tone – as if you know just what you are doing.

This is not how you feel inside of course, but you’ll improve with practice and a confident tone prevents your helper from getting anxious and controlling.


Rule 3: Request the help in a way that shows the person how to do it.

The public have no clue how to help you. You need to tell them – nicely.


“I need to buy toothpaste. Can I take your elbow over to the dental aisle?”

“Is the pizza store to the left or the right from here? Is that your left or my left?”

“Are you heading for the bus station? Do you mind if I walk beside you? This place is really confusing for me.”

“Can we find somewhere a bit more private while you fill out my medical information? Maybe there’s a seat round the corner.”

“Can you tell me which bill is the $5, and which the $10? And can you hand me the receipt? It’s not good for me to put it in the bag.”

(Try not to feel rushed by the thought of the people behind you. Remember the last time you stood patiently while someone spent minutes getting a price checked somewhere at the back of the store.)


Rule 4: Make the endpoint of the assistance clear at the beginning.

This is so your assistant doesn’t disappear on you. And also so you don’t have someone hanging about when you don’t want them anymore.


“Can you assist me with finding some groceries? I’d like you to stay while I go through the check out too. Then I’ll be all set.”

“Can you take me over to the seating area near the main doors? If you can find me a seat facing the doors I’ll be quite okay.”

“Can you show me where the size 12 petite pants are? After that I’ll be fine.”

And of course . . .

“Can I take your elbow to the restroom? Are the stalls on the left or the right as I enter? And the sinks…? I’ll be fine now thanks.”


You understand that you have to be the leader and the teacher because your helpers mean well but don’t know a thing. They just see well – lucky them!

6 thoughts on “Four Rules for Getting Assistance

  1. These are great advices for people with vision loss. Is in the way that we make the questions , how we will get the better answers.

    1. Hey Maria! So great to know you are teaching this important social communication stuff in Uruguay. We miss you at the Carroll Center. love,

  2. Great suggestions on how to communicate and network in social situations between people of different needs. I think people can be reluctant and perhaps not always know how to help. I wish you could share these tips and strategies in our elementary schools where teaching empathy and communication starts. Thank you & I so enjoy reading your work!

  3. Yes, this si so true. We all get nervous about assisting when the kind of person or situation is new. I’m so glad you are teaching empathy in elementary school. Young children are often great at assisting without judging. Best wishes to you in your work.

    1. I’m so glad you are finding the page useful, Francisco. Please continue to practice this whenever you need assistance. It takes a while to get comfortable with doing it, but it’s worth it.

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