Dear NCDE: Can I Hire a Sighted Guide for a Visually Impaired Participant?

A group of people walk and roll down a sidewalk. 2 people are linking arms and being guided down the sidewalk.
Guiding a blind or visually impaired person is something that virtually anyone can do with very little instruction and no experience.

Dear NCDE:

We are implementing an exchange program in the next few months. It will be a short-term program split between one American city and one city in another country,which is yet to be determined. One of the participants is visually impaired. They have requested a full-time aid/assistant to help get around and I'm not sure where to begin with this search. We would like to procure the services of a professional aid. Please email me to discuss further details. Thank you!

Justin's Response:

You may not be able to find a professional to do this kind of job, but you probably wouldn't need one anyway. My guess is that he is looking for a sighted guide, and that is something that virtually anyone can do with very little instruction and no experience. When we host our Women’s Institute on Leadership and Disability (WILD) and our programming for international high school students, the blind and visually impaired participants are usually expected to handle things on their own, and many of them do so by recruiting guides from among their new friends on the program as needed. Others venture out and try getting around independently with their canes.

Of course if it is about a shorter program I could see why the participant would want to have somebody assigned to this task. Sometimes it is more about not losing the people that you are with on a tour group, rather than not getting lost yourself, since the latter usually isn't an issue for a blind person with experience. I would suggest reaching out to a local organization like a Lighthouse for the Blind or a Lions Club to see if they know of any volunteers who would be interested in joining up as a sighted guide.

There are no organizations in the business of hiring out sighted guides like personal care attendants or ASL interpreters, so instead you can call explaining that you are organizing and international exchange program, and that you are hoping that they could brainstorm with you to find a person who would be willing to help out in this capacity, knowing that they themselves don't provide that service.

It would probably behoove you to hire a sighted guide in each city to save on travel and lodging costs, though you could also hire someone for the duration of the trip if you think that would be easier.

Sight Connection offers helpful instructions on how to provide sighted guide assistance.

I hope that helps get you started. We can't wait to hear how it turns out.


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Justin Harford