Safely lending a hand
Local high school student leads trainings to help law enforcement, first responders work with blind and visually impaired people
- By Kaylee Brewster, of the Tribune Jan 14, 2022 Updated Jan 14, 2022
Caleb Hyndman is no ordinary teenager.
After all, not every 15-year-old trains police officers and first responders. In this case, the training is on how to work with blind and visually impaired people.
It’s something Hyndman considers himself an expert on. The freshman at Lewiston High School has been legally blind since birth, although he has some vision.
“I build on what I already know,” he said. “Then I help them (the people I’m training) with more information that they might not know.”
The idea for the training came when Hyndman met Capt. Jeff Klone of the Lewiston Police Department at a visit to the Idaho State Police with the Idaho Commission for the Blind and Visually Impaired. The visit was to help those who are blind and visually impaired touch and experience a police car and the equipment officers use. Klone and Hyndman began talking and the idea came up for Hyndman to do trainings for officers based on his experience and expertise.
The first of that work was done Thursday at three training sessions for law enforcement and first responders in the area at the Asotin County Fire District No. 1 in Clarkston. The free training will then be used statewide for Idaho. Jeffrey Riechmann, executive director of Courageous Kids Climbing, a group that provides opportunities for children with special needs and disabilities, also assisted with the event.
The training lets officers get experience in leading blind and visually impaired people, while wearing a mask over their eyes. Two officers would come up to the front stage and act out the direction from Hyndman of various scenarios that included leading a blind person around, doing an exam to see if a visually impaired person is hurt, working with a blind person who uses a cane and helping a blind or visually impaired person out of an emergency situation. After the officers acted out the scenario, Hyndman offered tips and advice on what they did right and areas they could improve.
One of the first things Hyndman pointed out was to lead blind or visually impaired people by letting them grab the officer’s elbow, not their hand.
When the blind person holds on to a person’s elbow, Hyndman said, it allows them to follow rather than being pushed by the sighted person. It’s also safer for the blind person because the arm is more responsive to obstacles like doors. Hyndman said when the sighted person comes to a door, pull back on the elbow so the visually impaired person knows a door is there.
“Besides, if they hold your hand it looks weird,” Hyndman said.
Verbal communication is also key. “Tell them what you’re doing so they know there’s something going on,” he said.
Part of that verbal communication is announcing who you are and telling them what you are doing there. He noted that a blind or visually impaired person won’t be able to see a uniform so they wouldn’t know if a person was a member of law enforcement or a first responder.
Sighted people also should tell a visually impaired person what they’re doing when they are being led, like going up and down stairs, indicating how many stairs there are. If there is a door, tell the blind person if the door pushes out or pulls in, and if it opens on the right or left side.
Caleb Hyndman’s grandma, Cynda Hyndman, who has helped raise Caleb Hyndman, assisted with her grandson’s presentation by talking about some myths about blind people. Caleb Hyndman and Cynda Hyndman dispelled the misinformation that blind people have better hearing, that all blind people are good musicians (even though Caleb Hyndman enjoys composing music), and that blind people can recognize people by their voice.
Caleb Hyndman said he can’t tell people by their voice immediately and having people test him by asking, “Can you tell who it is by the sound of my voice?” is rude.
“It’s not nice for people to do that,” Caleb Hyndman said.
Caleb Hyndman also stressed the importance of not grabbing a blind person’s cane.
“Imagine if this is your way of seeing,” he said, holding his cane. “It’s important that I do have my cane and it’s nearby and can be used at any time.”
Riechmann mentioned another reason to not interfere with a visually impaired person’s cane or service dog — it’s illegal. Idaho code says intentionally interfering with a blind person’s cane or service dog is a citable offense.
With guide dogs — not to be confused with therapy dogs — which are specifically trained to help a blind or visually impaired person, touching a dog can be considered interference.
“While that guide dog is working, no one can touch it,” Caleb Hyndman said, except the handler who the dog is trained to listen to.
Caleb Hyndman said if an officer needs to lead a visually impaired person who has a guide dog, have the handler grab their elbow, then take the dog’s leash, that way the dog will know it doesn’t need to be working. “They’re trained to be guide dogs and be normal dogs and that’s about it” he said. “And not beg for food.”
By the end of the training, Caleb and Cynda Hyndman, reminded law enforcement and first responders at the training that blind and visually impaired people are people who live their lives like anyone else. Caleb Hyndman is a normal teenager, who also happens to write and present training sessions for a new statewide program.
Brewster may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or at (208) 848-2297.