How to Be Independent in the U.S. as a Blind Visitor

African exchange participant touching a tactile wall while visiting FDR Memorial in Washington DC
If you are blind or low vision, you will find Americans friendly and helpful but you may also notice that people who are blind are expected to be independent navigating daily life.

Accommodations to Increase Independence

  • U.S. laws and community resources create opportunities to support your independence.
  • You are allowed to bring dog guides into places that typically do not allow pets.
  • You are entitled to braille and audio materials or other accessible formats.
  • You might have access to free or low-cost training for independent living skills such as housekeeping or computer training.
  • You are expected to be knowledgable of your rights to equal access and how to ask for what you need.

Independent Daily Living Skills

  • You will be expected to perform your own household tasks and prepare your own meals.
  • Using braille labels, tactile stickers and other assistive aids can help you use home appliances.
  • Local independent living centers and organizations serving people who are blind might be able to assist in providing you with the skills and tools you need.
  • Your U.S. school or employer disability office might also be a good resource for this purpose.

Traveling in the U.S. without Assistance

  • American disability laws require accessibility in education, the community, and places of employment and business.
  • Traffic typically follows the rules of the road.
  • Sidewalk and street surfaces are usually well maintained.
  • Public transportation is often accessible.
  • Older urban cities are often more crowded and rural areas might have less access to public transportation.

Orientation & Mobility (O&M)

  • Academic institutions and other organizations sometimes provide access to an O&M instructor or arrange for a blind visitor to enroll in O&M training a few weeks or months prior to the start of their international experience.
  • O&M instructors typically don’t stay with you throughout the whole day.
  • Routes you will go over include bus and train stops, routes between classes, and other important destinations.
  • You will also learn safety in traveling across street intersections and through crowded areas.
  • Community organizations for the blind, schools for the blind, vision specialists and others teach O&M skills.

Mobility Aids

Long cane/white cane

  • Extends in front of you to alert you of your path and obstacles in your way.
  • A cane is more useful if you’ve had prior training.
  • Training can range from a session lasting a couple hours to a more intensive long-term arrangement.
  • Training is not always available for free to international visitors, but might be offered through your exchange program.

Dog guide

  • Might not be eligible to travel overseas with you or may have quarantine restrictions in Hawaii and requirements if coming from countries affected with screw worms.
  • Dog guide training schools are free or low cost, but you will need to inquire if the school accepts foreign students.
  • The Centers for Disease Control Animal Importation states the same requirements (e.g. rabies vaccination) exist for guide dogs as for pets when coming into the U.S.
  • The U.S. Air Carrier's Access Act, which covers foreign carriers entering U.S., say that airlines shall permit dogs used by people with disabilities to accompany them on a flight.
  • Read more details and other tips for deciding on if and how to prepare for travel with a dog guide at "Dog Guides and Service Animals When Traveling Overseas".

Other aids

  • Human guides as well as electronic devices can also be useful when other methods alone are not enough to travel independently.
  • You can contact the local public transportation agency to find paratransit services for routes that are not accessible through mass transit.
  • You might require a personal aide to take notes or explain visual materials. The exchange program, workplace, or school can either hire aides to work with you or use a volunteer or classmate.
  • You might also wish to use a reader and/or a scribe for certain situations like filling out forms or taking exams. Someone will read materials out loud to you and write down your answers based on your dictation.
  • High-powered reading glasses and magnifiers can provide additional support for some people who have low vision and may be available low cost from community service clubs and associations.
  • Assistive technology and learning contracted braille and the services that provide accessible formats of print materials can be helpful in independently reading, writing and communicating. Learn more on the Assistive Technology if Blind or Have Low Vision tipsheet.