Disability Specific Guiding Tips

General Tips for Guiding            

Before the run: 

Make sure to communicate with your athlete before the run begins. The two of you can discuss strategies for how to make the run go as smoothly as possible. Some things you can ask your athlete are:

  • What kind of assistance do you like to have during your run? What kinds of physical or verbal cues do you prefer?
  • How far do you want to go, and what type of pace?
  • Are there any special things I need to know before we leave?

During the run:

 Make sure to encourage your athlete to do their best, but don’t push harder than they are able to go! Don’t set the pace unless they ask you to, run at your athlete’s natural pace.              

After the run:

Help your athlete get water and snacks when they are available.

Talk to your athlete about how the run went, and if any changes would be helpful for next time. Make sure your athlete is safe before you leave (e.g., with group, at community center, has ride).

Disability Specific Tips for Guiding 
Visual Impairment (VI)/ Blindness

Below are levels of VI:

Class B1: No light perception in either eye, and inability to recognize the shape of a hand at any distance or in any direction.

Class B2: From ability to recognize the shape of a hand up to visual acuity of 20/600 and/or a visual field of less than 5 degrees in the best eye with the best practical eye correction.

Class B3: From visual acuity above 20/600 and up to visual acuity of 20/200 and/or a visual field of less than 20 degrees and more than 5 degrees in the best eye with the best practical eye correction.

What does this mean for guiding? 

Depending on your athlete’s level of vision, they may prefer different styles of guiding. Some athletes will want to use a tether, some will want to use an arm lock, and some may feel comfortable simply running beside you. Make sure to communicate with your athlete before your run, and ask them what their preferred style of guidance is.

General Tips for Guiding a VI/ Blind Athlete

  • Gently push the arm of the runner when you need to move in the direction of your runner. When you need your athlete to move in your direction, gently pull on the tether or arm. Always pair with spoken direction.
  • Inform your athlete of things you are approaching such as narrowing path, speed hump, traffic lights, and obstacles, and be specific!
  • Inform your athlete in advance of any terrain changes such as going from pavement to dirt path, puddles ahead, and going across the grass.
  • If you need to run in single file briefly, the guide should go first and lead the athlete through. Give your athlete fair warning.
  • When using a tether, the length is long enough for arm movement and short enough to be responsive to directional changes. It is safer to loop your fingers through the loop instead of looping it around your wrist, to allow either the guide or athlete to let go safely and avoid injury should one of them fall.
  • Inform your athlete of potential hazards (e.g., slippery bridges, gaps, puddles, potholes, bike riders, strollers).
  • Run beside your athlete. If you are in front, even slightly, the athlete can trip on your feet.
  • Achilles will give you a tether, which is simply a shoestring with a loop on either end. Hold onto the loop with your hand. Do not tie it around your, or your athlete’s, wrist, which could be dangerous if either of you fell.
  • In the beginning, have your athlete hold your elbow, or hold the tether closely to your athlete’s hand. As you get more comfortable with your athlete, you may loosen up, allowing more distance between you.
  • Give an estimated distance to the top or bottom of a hill, bridge, curb, etc. Otherwise, just look at the landscape, and tell your athlete what you see! Bridges, trees, golfers, other runners, bikers, creek, sunset, etc.
  • Offer key directional verbal support, for example:
    • “Gentle right/left” to indicate a gentle curve in the path
    • “90 degrees” or “sharp left/right”
    • “Tighten up” tells the athlete to get close, and hold your elbow as you navigate a narrow or congested passage (bridges, runners coming towards you)
    • “Stop” when guide and athlete need to stop quickly (dog/car/obstacle darts in front of path)
  • Your athlete may have a guide dog, who might come with if you are walking. Do not play with the dog while they are working.

For More Info Visit our Tips for Guiding a Visually Impaired (VI)/ Blind Athlete)

Physical Disabilities

This category of disabilities includes athletes who are ambulatory (walks), but still have a physical disability that makes running on their own challenging. This may include any number of reasons, including a prosthetic limb, or difficulty with motor function that is aided by canes, crutches, or walkers.

It also includes those athletes who are not able to utilize their legs for running or walking due to a disability or condition such as, but not limited to spina bifida, spinal cord injury, or cerebral palsy. These athletes might choose to use a handcycle, a wheelchair (racing chair or regular manual chair), or an adapted trike for running. 

General Tips for Guiding an Athlete with a Physical Disability:

  • Talk to your athlete to see what type of assistance they need, they may prefer standby assistance or may want physical assistance when running.
  • Keep in mind that physical disabilities do not equate to intellectual disabilities and you should never assume this is the case with the athlete you are guiding. Some physical disabilities do cause speech difficulties and still the athlete can have completely normal cognitive abilities. 
Wheelchair Athlete

A wheelchair is completely self-propelled by the user pushing forward on the wheels.

General tips for guiding a wheelchair athlete: 

  • Wheelchair athlete being guided by runners running besideAn athlete with a wheelchair will travel slower on uphills, and faster on downhills.
  • During races, position yourself so someone is ahead of the athlete during races to warn people. You will typically be guiding with someone else.
  • Make sure to have something visible on the back of the chair so people can see it coming (like a flag)
  • Always check equipment before a race.
  • Make sure to be safe when helping an athlete transfer into or out of their wheelchair. Ask them how they typically do it, and don’t be afraid to ask for help if you need it!
Handcycle Athlete

A handcycle is a three-wheeled cycle with gears that is propelled by the arms rather than the legs, often used by athletes who have more function in their arms than legs.

General tips for guiding a handcycle athlete

  • Handcycle with guide running besideMake sure to be safe when helping an athlete transfer into or out of their wheelchair. Ask them how they typically do it, and don’t be afraid to ask for help if you need it!
  • If an athlete has lowered motor skills, they may use a tether with you on the back of their handcycle. You can use this to provide some extra control for speed when needed.
  • A flag at standing eye level height is required for handcycles to alert other individuals of its presence.
  • Safety helmets must be worn by Achilles athletes on wheels.
  • Handcycle athletes are generally fast, especially when traveling downhill. They will likely get ahead of you. You can catch up on the inclines.
  • Some races do allow guides on bicycles on the course. Contact the race director at least 6 weeks prior to the event to inquire…never assume!
 Intellectual Disabilities

An intellectual disability is characterized by limitations both in intellectual functioning (reasoning, learning, problem solving) and in adaptive behavior, which covers a range of everyday social and practical skills.

General Tips for Guiding an Athlete with an Intellectual Disability

  • Short directions tend to be easier to understand for these athletes.
  • Always show respect for the athlete.
  • It may be necessary to repeat directions a few times.
  • Make sure to provide encouragement throughout the run!
Hearing Impairments

Hearing impairment, or hearing loss, occurs when you lose part or all of your ability to hear. Other terms that are used to refer to hearing impairment are deaf and hard of hearing. Hearing impairment can be classified as mild, moderate, severe or profound.

General Tips for Guiding an Athlete with a Hearing Impairment

  • Figure out how your athlete prefers to communicate with others.
  • Use cue cards and hand gestures during your run!
  • If necessary, stop and gain eye contact to help communicate.
Medical Conditions

A disease in which the body’s ability to produce or respond to the hormone insulin is impaired, resulting in abnormal metabolism of carbohydrates and elevated levels of glucose in the blood and urine.

What does it mean for guiding?

Make sure to listen and communicate with your athlete about his or her needs while running. Make sure they are staying hydrated, and check in with them about how they are feeling. If your athlete is not feeling well, it’s better to cut the run short and get back to safety.


A respiratory condition marked by spasms in the bronchi of the lungs, causing difficulty in breathing.

What does it mean for guiding?

Ask your athlete if they have an inhaler that they typically take on runs. Make sure to communicate with them about how they are feeling throughout the run, and adjust your paces as necessary.