Winter officially begins next Wednesday, but Chicago and many other cities across the United States are already experiencing extremely cold and snowy conditions. Traveling in inclement weather is difficult for everyone, but more so for people with vision loss or other disabilities. Today, we are revisiting the subject of traveling outside during the winter with some tips for people who are blind or visually impaired.
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 snow will make this difficult. Crossing streets can also become challenging, because it can be harder to hear the sound of cars. Snow also interferes with the information we get from 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!
People who use dog guides have other challenges when dealing with ice and snow. Salt is wonderful for getting rid of ice, but it can hurt a dog’s paws. 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 people with vision loss 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 for people with and without vision. 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. These are other useful tips from the American Foundation for the Blind on traveling during the winter with a white cane. Stay warm, and safe travels to everyone! What other winter travel tips do you have for people who are blind or visually impaired?