The Star Tribune recently ran an excellent article on "disability etiquette" ("Stop embarrassing yourself and learn the right way to engage," Nov. 29), which focused on people using wheelchairs or living with other mobility issues. With a blind person like myself, the etiquette is a little different.

People who are blind or legally blind actually run the gamut, from partially sighted to totally blind. I am totally blind, and I'm speaking for myself and not the entire blind community. Others may have specific ideas on what would be most helpful to them.

First, if you wish to speak with me, introduce yourself. This serves two purposes: I know that you are specifically talking to me and not just passing by either on your cellphone or chatting with another person, and I will know who you are.

For example, "Hi, it's Juan." That simple greeting also tells me where you are, and gives some idea where your head is so I don't blankly stare at someplace awkward.

Then tell me when you're leaving. Especially in a situation involving more than one person, it can be hard for a blind person to keep track of who's there.

Second, if you want to help, and that's wonderful, tell me what you're doing. I have been clobbered by automatic doors when someone pushes the "open" button without letting me know. I think they feel worse than I do after that.

Anyway, let me know you're there and ask me how you can help. Sometimes a blind person does need help. No matter how good one is with a cane or with one's guide dog, it is not difficult to become disoriented or just plain lost. Every once in a while I have to say loudly to whoever is around, "Where am I?" This is not a rhetorical question. Sometimes I am clueless.

Third, don't grab me. Don't take my arm and haul me across the street. Don't force my hand onto an object you think I am seeking. A blind person, always on high alert for all the many things that can go wrong, can really react if grabbed. The instinct is to pull away. So much better to just offer help and be patient as I grope.

Just tell me, "To your right. No, your other right." (I've never been that great with directions.) But I want to be the one to find the scissors or the door handle. It's just safer.

Fourth, I welcome a question about my disability. Blind people may vary on this one. I'm happy to explain how I use my guide dog or even how I became blind. I'd rather demystify this for those who are curious. But not everyone welcomes such questions.

Fifth, don't pet my guide dog. When my dog is in harness, he is working, whether he is walking, standing or lying on the ground. The safety of our team, the dog and me, depends on the dog paying complete attention to me, his surroundings and the work he has to do. Neither of us is safe if he is distracted, or if he learns to seek attention from others while working. When he is out of harness, he is a dog like any other.

Let me add a note on blindness itself. Humans are visual creatures. A high percentage of the brain's cortex is devoted to processing images and, although numbers vary depending on the source, the large majority of our sensory input that helps us to find the reality around us is visual. For people who lose the sense of sight, many cues that sighted people take for granted cannot be perceived at all, or only indirectly using other senses. That makes travel and interaction challenging and it's why you don't see that many blind people around, even though there are somewhere between 6 million to 7 million Americans with this disability.

So if you see someone with a cane or a guide dog, feel free to say hello, or if you sense some assistance might be useful, ask if you can help.

Craig Hansen, of Stillwater, is a musician and writer and dean emeritus of the College of Liberal Arts at Metropolitan State University.