Because many of you are asking me about the mobility segment of my training I thought I’d post about this area first.
My first session with Hanneke
The weather here is always a topic of conversation. Doing my first mobility session in a slipper, in the cold, with grey skies wasn’t my idea of fun, it, like the weather made for lousy conversation. What’s not to dislike? At least I had some hours of mobility training behind me.
For my first session Hanneke (my mobility instructor) and I walked off of the site and into the tiny residential area that surrounds the “campus.” Away I went, me and my infected toe, and the pain in each step was nasty but I didn’t want to bug out of this. Being a wimp wasn’t an option.
I stepped off of the site and began to make a map. I began instantly because at some point I’m going to have to find my way home…..all alone. I’m going to have to use all my skills and prove I can do it. So I began to work on the problem from the first step I took outside of the Loo Erf campus. One day Hanneke will say to me “today is the day that we drop you somewhere and see if you can make it home.” That is the day I must prepare for…..the day when every skill I’ve learned is put to the test. It isn’t about the dog: it’s about being self sufficient and safe from things that go “bump” in the middle of the day.
This city is new to me. I don’t know it at all and that worked well because Hanneke could see what I couldn’t see. I couldn’t see the bus stop until I was right on top of it. I felt stupid. That is what needed to happen. The truth is I was kind of distracted. It hurt walking on a sidewalk in a slipper that is coming apart….slowly. So I stumbled along in the cold making my map and learning. I learned a short cut the very first day. I liked that.
Doing mobility in a new place is a real eye opener. I can’t fake seeing because I don’t know what I’m supposed to be seeing so, in essence, she got to see the real me in action. I have to realize that I’m not as good as I am when I know the area. Stumbling onto the bus stop was proof of that fact. So I have to learn a great deal. It will get better, and I will be able to travel by bus and train. This will be good. For right now I want to just relax and take my time getting to where I can be independent.
Going to the Shopping center
This isn’t as simple as it sounds. What you might take for granted I can’t. I can’t just walk across the street. I can’t just look down the road and see everything that you see. I need to train to understand the environment. I need to be safe. So learning a new route is done with the help of a sighted person, and it is done in phases.
The first phase was to walk to the first major street crossing and study how the traffic flows. There are two signals that control the traffic in a north/south direction. I listen for a quiet first half of the street and step out into the road. Once in the middle of the road I listen for the sound of no traffic and courageously step into the street again. Now I’m on the other side of the street. That was the second lesson.
The trick to all of this is to make sure, in as much as I can, that I am seen. Sometimes you get lucky and a car will stop and let you cross. That is very kind. So to all you drivers reading this: be nice to those of us with little white walking sticks. Watch out for us as we may not see you.
The second phase was to continue along the same path I knew from the previous session and learn two new crossings. This turned out to be tricky as neither cross signal was working. So I got the assistance of the human touch: Hanneke.
I got to the shopping center and explored what was there: several grocery stores, post office, drug store, the fish guy and a bakery. I also found my bank. I returned home and gave myself a nice pat on the back for having been able to navigate that far.
The next session was “the test” could I do it unassisted. Hanneke said she was pleased with the way I did things. I guess I passed. Not bad for just a few hours of work.
So why do low vision and blind people carry sticks? To let you know who we are, that we can’t see you or stuff around us. To let you know that you will see us before we see (if we do see) you. Aside from the practical issue of not bumping into walls we carry a stick for the simple reason that we need it to navigate the sighted world.