I had just gotten out of a lecture in college, when a classmate pointed out that it was snowing pretty hard and that there were already a couple of inches. This happened in 2011, a year when Chicago had a very brutal winter. I knew my commute back home would not be easy when my classmate gave me these not so great news! The ground was covered with snow, so even knowing where the sidewalk was became difficult. Crossing the street also became a nightmare. Needless to say, I got disoriented on my way home more than once.
Traveling in snow is challenging for everyone, but it can present additional obstacles for those of us who are blind or visually impaired. Like anyone else, we must still go on with our activities during the winter – hibernating is not an option! While winter travel will always create hardships, there are a few tips and tricks that might help relieve some of the challenges for both blind and sighted individuals.
Most people are not aware, but snow muffles the sounds of things. Someone who is blind or has significant low vision relies on echoes and other sounds to orient themselves to their surroundings, so naturally snow will make this difficult. Crossing streets can also become challenging, as it can be harder to hear the sound of cars. Snow also interferes with the information we get with our canes. When streets, sidewalks and grass are covered in snow, it is difficult, if not impossible for cane users to know where we are. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve gotten thrown off my path because I had no idea where the sidewalk begins and ends!
Dog guide users have other challenges when dealing with ice and snow. While the salt is wonderful for getting rid of the ice, it can hurt a dog’s paws. Blind dog guide users won’t always know if or where salted spots are located, so they must take additional precautions to prevent their four-legged companions from getting their paws hurt. Dog boots can help keep the paws warm and prevent injury from the salt or other sharp objects hidden under the ice and snow.
Perhaps the best advice for blind and visually impaired individuals is to be cautious when traveling in the winter. The white cane is generally good at detecting snow and icy spots, so take precaution and walk at a slower pace if need be in these areas. If you get disoriented and need assistance, don’t hesitate to ask whoever is nearby for help. Of course, when it snows it’s generally cold, and this can make traveling outside more unpleasant — keep in mind that you might already be traveling at a slower pace to begin with! Always bundle up when traveling in extremely cold temperatures.
When winter conditions are extremely cold or dangerous, you might want to look at other forms of transportation. If you feel unsafe waiting for a bus or train in cold or icy weather, it might be a good idea to consider taking a cab, Uber or asking a friend or family member for a ride. Of course, there will be times when you will absolutely have to wait for public transportation outside. Always bundle up with extra layers of clothing and find a shelter to protect you from the inclement weather in this situation.
Winter is hard on all of us, and it is something we have to deal with each year whether we like it or not. Coping with this often brutal weather is no walk in the park for anyone, but by having good independent travel skills and using our common sense, we’ll be able to safely get around. If you want more tips on how to travel during the winter as a blind or visually impaired individual, read this article from the Lighthouse Guild. Stay warm, and safe travels to everyone!