What is Guiding?

Guides are volunteers who walk or run alongside a blind/visually impaired person while providing verbal cues and/or while holding a tether.

United In Stride is thankful for those who are willing to share their heart, eyes, and feet with a visually impaired walker or runner who would not otherwise be able to participate outdoors. Guides are needed for all paces and distances since the VI Athlete community is very diverse, from beginner to elite.

Watch our Guide Tutorial Video!

Learn to become a running guide for blind/visually impaired athletes with these helpful tips demonstrated by some of our United In Stride members.

For more helpful videos check out our YouTube!

Before you Start

Trust is a key component to a successful walking/running experience. After all, the visually impaired athlete is relying on the guide to help minimize the risk of running into or tripping over obstacles during an outing together.

Before to walking or running together for the first time, the VI athlete and guide should discuss boundaries and expectations. It would be appropriate to ask the following:

  • What are the goals of the visually impaired athlete and the expectations they have for their guide? Are they training for a race or just staying in shape?
  • What pace and/or distance should you be expecting to walk/run together? How often?
  • Can the visually impaired athlete describe the details of their vision loss and how it impacts their mobility?
  • What sort of assistance and guiding cues work best for the visually impaired athlete? For VI athletes who haven’t used a guide before this may require some trial and error with the help of the guide to figure out the safest and most effective guiding method.
  • Asking questions, respecting personal boundaries, being a good listener, and following through with your plans are just a few ways to lay the right foundation.

    Understanding the Different Guiding Methods

    There are multiple methods of guiding and it is up to the VI athlete to determine the method that works best for their personal comfort and safety. Guides can also express what they are and aren’t comfortable with.

    Verbal Cues

    All methods of guiding rely heavily on the use of verbal communication by the guide to the VI athlete. This is especially important when guiding without a tether or physical cues. For deaf-blind athletes, other forms of cueing may be necessary.

    No Tether

  • Front to Back: VI walker/runner uses their limited vision to follow behind a guide.
  • Side by Side: The VI athlete uses their limited vision to walk/run beside their guide. They may also lightly hold onto the guide’s shoulder or arm just above the elbow.
  • With Tether

  • Hand-Held Tether: This is typically a rope, shoestring or strap with a loop on both ends, approximately 18-inches long. The preference of the material, length and size of loop varies. Typically, those with less vision run with shorter tethers.
    • You can order a United In Stride hand-held tether here.
  • Rigid Hand-Held Tether: The guide and VI athlete hold onto something such as a “white cane”. The more rigid structure helps some feel more connected to their guide.
  • Waist-to-Waist Tether: A band is connected to belts or a loop around each runner’s waist. It allows one to run without holding onto the tether.
  • Touch Cues

  • Light touch prompts on the arm with verbal cues also help to provide directional cues, especially when a tether isn’t being used. A gentle nudge or pull to course correct can be helpful.
  • With that being said, most VI athletes do not want to be pulled or grabbed unless there is imminent danger. If using touch cues, the VI athlete and guide should talk about this in advance.
  • Elbow Leads

  • When running, the VI athlete most likely will not have their white cane with them. Therefore, before or after runs, the VI athlete will hold onto the guides arm just above the elbow. This is what most commonly comes to mind when people think of guiding.
  • The guide should NOT direct the VI athlete by holding on to them and pulling them around. This is generally considered to be offensive just as it would be for someone to pull a sighted person around by their arm.
  • There are VI athletes who prefer to hold onto their guide’s arm in this manner when running as well.
  • Guiding Instructions

    When in Doubt, Call it Out!

    A visually impaired walker/runner cannot see, so they rely on what you tell them to understand obstacles, terrain, and the environment around them.

    Even if something doesn’t present an obvious tripping hazard to a sighted person such as a small puddle, pile of leaves, mud, or gravel on a road surface, always try to alert the VI walker/runner to what is coming up if you must go through it.

    Announce what is coming up:

    “We’ll be running downhill for a couple hundred yards and then the road flattens out.”

    “There is a cyclist approaching us. They are on the other side of the path so let’s stay where we are at.”

    “There is a stoplight coming up, we are going to come to a stop at the end of the sidewalk and wait for it to turn green.”

    Inform of terrain changes:

    Always inform the VI athlete about transitions such as moving from pavement to cobblestone, or pavement to dirt or grass, when stepping onto a wooden bridge, cresting a hill, dips or bumps in a path, etc.

    You may have to slow down for a few steps at the point of change for the VI walker/runner to adjust to the new terrain.

    3-2-1 countdown:

    This can be used when alerting the VI athlete to the timing of various obstacles, turns or changes in footing.

    For example, “We will be stepping down a curb in 3-2-1, step down.” “There are some overhanging branches, so we’ll duck in 3-2-1 duck. All clear.” “We’ll be making a hard right turn in 3-2-1, turn.”

    Be a bumper:

    When guiding a visually impaired athlete, there will be physical contact. It is the responsibility of the guide to act as a “bumper” on one side from potential hazards. It’s important that the guide holds their position. When the VI walker/runner accidentally bumps into the guide, they can correct their course.

    When using a hand-held tether, the guide will be the “bumper on one side and the tether provides the limit on the other side.

    Run single file in tight spaces:

    When moving between tight obstacles such as poles in your path, or navigating groups or cyclists, there are times you will need to run single file. First announce the upcoming movement, for example, “we have an approaching cyclist so move behind me”. The guide will initially need to speed up to get into the right position in front of the VI athlete.

    If using a tether, the guide will hold their tethered hand in the middle of their back so the VI athlete can center behind the them. Since the tether is quite short, the VI athlete will be holding their arm out in front to allow for enough space to avoid tripping the guide.

    Once the obstacle is clear, call out, “all clear,” and the VI athlete can once again come alongside the guide. Running/walking single file can be a challenge so is normally only done for clearing brief obstacles that cannot be negotiated in any other way.

    Last minute physical corrections are OK:

    If words can’t come fast enough to avoid an obstacle, it’s OK to push/yank the VI athlete out of the way. They would much rather have that then falling on their face!

    Describe visual observations:

    Tell the VI athlete about your visual observations of what is going on around you. A colorful sunrise or sunset, flowers in bloom, or other beautiful, odd or funny things going on around you shouldn’t be kept secret.

    Practice on your own:

    When out running/walking on your own, practice calling out what you would say if you were guiding. This will allow you to work on your timing of cues and begin paying attention to the world around you that normally goes unnoticed.

    You can also blindfold yourself and have a friend guide you to have a better sense of what cues are helpful. If you have a willing friend who trusts you, blindfold them and take them out to practice with you. It can be equally helpful to blindfold yourself for a short practice, while being guided by a friend, so you develop a better sense of the types of cues that you would want to have.

    During a race:

    When guiding at races, the guide will oftentimes also give the VI athlete pacing feedback and grab the water cups from the volunteers.

    Commitment Expectations for Guides

    It is important for visually impaired athletes to have multiple guides in their network to ensure they have a partner to fit their schedule. They cannot depend on one or two guides to be available for them at all times.

    A guide should would be willing to volunteer once or twice a month, but are obviously welcome to be more involved. This is a great opportunity to combine your love of athletics with volunteering without a significant commitment to your schedule.

    Unless specifically discussed, you are not expected to be an athlete’s primary guide and they should have (or are working on recruiting) additional guides to help meet their goals. Even fast runners are willing to guide a much slower pace if it is just once in a while.

    Guiding at Races

    Oftentimes, the most stressful part of an event for a VI/Blind runner is the logistics surrounding the event itself. Arriving early does a lot to reduce the race day logistical stressors.

    Blind/visually impaired athletes and their guides are encouraged to contact the race organizer prior to registering for the race so they know how the guide registration will be managed.

    For more information about VI race divisions, visit our Races resource page.


    Looking for helpful tips on how to communicate and reach out to other members? Or how to safely guide a visually impaired walker or runner? Check out our resource pages and find additional information such as VI race classifications and gear to keep you visible to others.

    UIS Best Practices

    Person wearing a reflective vest holding a bullhorn.

    Building Your Network

    Visually Impaired runner and two guides drinking water during a race.

    Guiding 101

    Blind runner and guide holding a tether.


    Person walking on a treadmill.

    Additional Resources

    United In Stride printed tshirt, running hat, and handheld tether.

    Contact Us

    Reach out to us on our contact page.

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