Personal safety tips for blind and partially sighted people

Post date: 
Friday, 21 July 2017
Photo of Alan with his arm on David's shoulder

Many people, even those without a sensory condition, can feel vulnerable if they are out on their own. David Black, who is from Scotland and is blind, is no different - except in one respect: he's a newly trained personal safety instructor.

David (who's wearing sunglasses in the picture next to Alan, his project partner) went blind when he was just a teenager. Since then, he has been subject to violent attacks on a number of occasions, including being tripped up “to see how blind” he is. As a result, he was often scared about going out and would put off journeys. He walked hunched over, hoping that people wouldn’t notice him.
Getting involved with The Scottish Centre for Personal Safety changed all that. In 2016, David was given the opportunity to help develop a personal safety course through a connection from Scottish War Blinded. He now walks taller, straighter and more confidently than ever before. He’s even had a longer guide cane issued to compensate for his improved posture!
David said: “Alan at The Scottish Centre for Personal Safety developed a course specifically for people with low or no vision, which was then tested on participants from Scottish War Blinded. We built up our confidence and self-esteem."

"Everyone has the right to walk down the street without fear of attack,” said David.

A Chi Gung class at the Forth Valley Sensory Centre in Falkirk introduced David to martial arts and over the years he has tried many blind-friendly styles of combat. These include aiki-jujutsu, aikido, judo, and muay thai.
However, David said: “In reality, there is no such thing as a completely blind-friendly martial art, but we were taught things that I have found helpful. I realised when I was attacked though, that a lot of the fancy martial arts moves go out of the window. You need to do much more basic things to help keep yourself safe and, if possible, avoid conflict completely.”

So what are David and Alan’s top five tips for staying safe?

  1. Know when you should use self defence: Alan says: “We teach the law. What you can and can’t do in any given situation. When should you use a self-defence technique? The simple answer is: whenever you feel threatened and there is no other means of escape. But remember, ‘personal safety’ might simply be leaving the room or locking a door. It doesn’t have to mean a violent act."
  1. The best fight is one you don’t have: Alan continues: "If you think someone is following you, cross the road. If they follow, cross back. Someone crossing the road once, is a coincidence, but twice? That should have alarm bells ringing. In this situation, one of the best things to do is to confront them with a disarming statement. ‘Can I help?’ is a good start. You can then throw them off guard by saying ‘Do I know you? Your voice sounds familiar’. This creates doubt in the mind of a potential attacker. Most are cowards. None want to be caught, so while they might feel confident attacking a stranger, if there is even a remote possibility of being identified, many will move off and leave you alone."
  1. Create space between you and a potential assailant: David adds: "As a guide cane user, I can create a barrier between myself and the other person by using my cane. It makes it harder for them to get near me and provides me with a possible improvised weapon if needed. It also shows anyone watching that I am blind. A blind person holding up their stick and shouting ‘Get back!’ clearly shows they are under attack and draws attention.
  1. Use your voice: David continues: "Shout ‘Get back’ but never ‘Back off’, as this can be misheard and potentially lead witnesses to think that you provoked your attacker. Shouting can provide you a few seconds in which to get help and shows the attacker that you will not be an easy victim.”
  1. Protect your life, not your belongings: Alan says: “If someone comes up to you with a knife and demands your phone, wallet or other belongings, give it to them. We instinctively try to fight to protect what is ours, but it makes much more sense to protect yourself. At the end of the day, it is just a bit of plastic or money. It really isn’t worth risking your life over.”

Further information

  • If you're interested in joining David’s personal safety class or finding out more about support for blind and partially sighted people in Camelon, Falkirk, please visit the Forth Valley Sensory Centre website.
  • All trainers at The Scottish Centre for Personal Safety have undergone visual awareness training. The charity also has a trainer with visual impairment named Michael based at Barony St. John Centre in Ardrossan. For more information and to book other courses for people with low or no vision, visit their website.