If your blind getting out and about isn’t easy even at the best of times. One way or another a lot of us manage it though. Let me take you back 48 hours to Tuesday morning.
Here’s the situation. I had an appointment with my supervisor at Uni in central London. I had not met with him for quite some time and there were a few important issues around funding and the direction of my PhD that I wanted to discuss face to face. Email is great, but there’s nothing like a free flow of ideas. Added to that I had a book to take back to the library. Now you might think this wasn’t so important, accept that the book was from the teaching collection, which most students aren’t allowed to take out for longer than 1 night. Then there were a couple of books waiting for me to collect. Finally, I had to pick up a memory stick that I had previously lent to someone from the Student’s Union and wanted to get back.
So, I woke up late and was in a bit of a hurry. I left home at just after 9.15 in the morning. Discovered how snowy the ground was and then decided to turn round and get a taxi. As soon as I had closed the front door behind me, my 11 years of boarding school kicked in and I decided that if I couldn’t walk down the road how was a taxi going to get in. I also decided that I was perfectly capable of managing a bit of snow. A fruitless effort to prove my own independence?
Well, the fact that I’m writing this suggests that I was in-fact perfectly capable of making that journey. However, walking through the snow is far harder than walking in a usual environment. I use a cane at the moment and it is very hard to roll the cane across the ground as the snow makes the rolling motion very hard. Then its difficult to feel the kerb with the cane, as the snow tends to be deeper near the kerb. Following a wall isn’t easy either as again the snow is deeper near that.
Having all this snow also means that the cane tends to get stuck in it, thus causing painful vibrations to go shooting up your wrist and arm. The ball at the bottom of my cane got filled with snow thus slowing the rolling motion even further.
If that wasn’t enough, with the snow on the ground its far harder to tell if your walking on the pavement or the road, where the road is in relation to the pavement and where crossing points are located.
Sound also becomes deadened by the snow which means its harder to hear cars coming towards you and the sound of buildings, fences etc change. Now a sighted person may not understand this last point, but a blind person will know that as you walk the sound your cane makes, the sounds your feet make, clicks of the tongue all give clues as to the environment the blind person is walking through. With practice you can tell roughly how close you are to a building, if there’s an opening coming up etc.
Finally, I found I was regularly going from snow, to slush, to ice and finally to grit. The constant changes from one surface to another without knowing what was coming next was very off putting. Of course everyone slips and slides in this weather, but then most people can see where they are putting their feet when walking.
Well I did manage it, but by the time I got home just before 2 I was cold and knackered. Was it worth it? Yes in every respect.
Going to boarding school gave me many benefits. But one negative was an inability to recognise that independence doesn’t necessarily mean doing everything by myself. And that is something I need to remember. Perhaps other blind people need to do the same.