Tag: blindness

A Winter Walk to the Y

Living where such things happen, yesterday, we received 10 inches of snow.  Now today, it is sunny with a clear blue sky. 

If you live with low vision as I do, you have a love/hate relationship with bright sunny days.  Maybe you are even more ambivalent if you have to deal with what we up here in Minnesota call, “shovelable” levels of snow.  But that is a rant for another day. 

Anyway, my typical routine is to visit my local YMCA for a Sunday workout.  Usually I travel the approximately 1 mile, winding bike path through the park on the 3-wheeled bike I got several years ago.  While the city does a good job clearing these paths, so soon after the snow stopped falling, I chose to walk this time. 

One reason to walk and not ride is because the wide 3-wheeler would take up much of the cleared path.  If I were to confront a walker, in order for us to pass each other, they would have to step off the path and into deep snow.  Not a Minnesota Nice thing to make someone do.

The city’s cute little snow plow left the trail slightly snow covered but pushed up almost knee-high walls of snow on both sides of the trail.  It was like walking in a shallow ditch. The shadow cast by the snow wall would clearly reveal one side or the other as the trail curved along its route.  In this instance, the sunshine was helpful.

Yet for us with low vision, sunny days and the resulting shadows have a dark side.  Sorry, no pun intended; well maybe just a little intended.  Sunny days, especially when snow abounds, require sun glasses.  The normally sighted just pop them on and think nothing of it.  But those with low vision need sun glasses as well.  For some, a bright sunny day causes eye pain. 

While we should protect our retinas from bright sun, wearing them comes at a price.  We see little to nothing when something is in a shadow.  Adding sun glasses guarantees we won’t see what is in that shadow.  It doesn’t matter what creates that shadow.  Even if it is just a large tree, we still might wonder, is that merely a shadow or a physical obstacle in our path?  That is why using a white cane is so important.

On this walk while my white cane kept track of the “snow bumpers” and by seeing their cast shadow, the walk went fine.  Fine, as long as you ignore that in the open parkland the windblown, sub-freezing air kept me from stopping to admire the scene.  

Arriving at the Y by foot rather than by bike presented the first real challenge.  Normally arriving by bike, I’d curve up the sidewalk ramp at the far end of the building and loop back to lock up close to the entrance.  From there, I knew the short distance to the front doors.  While there are two separate sets of stairs leading up to the front of the building, neither of them leads directly to the front doors.  For some reason, the black door mat wasn’t there.  Oh, did I mention, the sun was on the other side of the building putting the door side in full shade?  

Once I mounted the first set of 13 steps, I was not sure exactly where the door was other than between where I stood and the other set of stairs.  In such situations I have a work around.  I pause while I fuss with something.  In this case, it was to slowly pull off sunglasses and start to loosen my coat.  While doing this, I watch closely for someone to enter or leave.  The family that conveniently exited right on cue, got me smoothly to and past the outer doors.  Darn those metal-finish doors with metal-finished door handles with their lack of contrast. 

The next step was navigating through the inner set of doors.  Again, there is little contrast, often various signs and now, snow shovels and sand buckets sitting in the space.  Again, just as I stood finishing stashing mittens and hat, two laughing guys pushed open the inner doors and I slid on in.

Mark and I exchanged greetings as he logged me in.  From there, I stayed on the black mat, through another door and turned to mount the stairs to the upper floor.  That floor is my next, but less challenging task.  Having traveled this floor for some years, I still pay attention to make the correct set of hall turns at the correct spot to get to the men’s locker room.  And no, I have never messed up and accidently gone into the women’s locker room.  Thank you very much! 

While I am a trusting person, I do put a lock on the locker I use.  I used to use one of those push-button combination locks.  No key and nothing to carry around.  Somehow it disappeared and I now use a lock with a key that I clip to the inside loop of my gym shorts.  Since I wear that shirt and shorts under my outer clothes, they were nice and warm. 

Changing foot gear is a different story.  It involved pulling cold cotton socks and gym shoes from my icy gym bag.  I sit on those socks as I get ready to warm them up before swapping them for my nice warm wool socks.

Once all that is done, I made my way to the rear stairs and down to the floor with the work-out room.  That large space is filled with quite an array of equipment.  At this hour on Sunday, there might be six or fewer present, which I like.  The space is roughly divided into thirds with aerobic machines, Cybex weight machines and a free weight area or what some call as barbells.  I’m a Cybex guy, so that’s where I head.

While I have a good mental map of the machines I use, I make use of another trick to get from the room’s low-contrast entrance to my area.  Over the years, I’ve learned to notice the position of ceiling lights.  Noticing them when entering a room can be useful as a guide.  Fluorescent ceiling fixtures are usually in parallel rows.  By using them and my long white cane, I can move directly to my first machine without incident.  

The machines are painted white and the floor is dark, so that helps.  Being familiar with how to use each of them took several visits, but by now I actually look like I know what I’m doing.  There have even been times when I encountered a less-experienced Cybex user having difficulty with an adjustment whom I was able to help. I’ll bet they will have a story to tell about how this blind guy helped them.

After an hour or so, I’m ready to give the 15 machines I just used a well-earned rest.  Using the ceiling light guides, I head straight to and through the room entrance.  From there it is back up the stairs, down the hall and into the locker room.

Back before the Great Disruption as I now call it, I would shower there.  Now I don’t.  I toss my workout duds into my gym bag, pull on a different t-shirt and all my winter gear.  Then I head out and back home.  By now, random glimpses of the dark pavement below begin peaking out.  They provide additional helpful color contrast for my walk back home.

I know that this is not a particularly exciting story, but during the walk home I thought some might like to hear some of the tips and tricks I use in various situations. Maybe I could have left out the part about warming my socks.

One Guy’s Strategy for Dealing with Unfamiliar Public Restrooms

Since this post is written by a guy for guys, you ladies, will have to decide if it contains anything of use to you. But for both groups, please consider using your white cane in these situations. More on that later.

I’m assuming, you’ve figured out where everything is in those public restrooms you occasionally use. But what about dealing with an unfamiliar one?

This post is the strategy I’ve worked out over many years to deal with those situations. I have and make use of my limited eyesight, but maybe a totally blind person will get something out of this as well.

As guys, we’ve learned three things about public restrooms. One, getting in and out can require multiple turns and maybe even opening additional doors. Secondly, while there’s only three fixtures in there we seek, we never know before entering where they will be. So, until a simplified, tactile sign indicating the layout is posted by the gender ID sign as you enter, it will always be a hunt and seek operation. Lastly, don’t even get me started on how many types of soap dispensers and hand drying devices there are, let alone how each operates and where they are hiding – I mean located.

Keep in mind that after doing your business, you want to easily get the heck out. Don’t laugh, I know someone who started calling for help after a frustrating 15 minutes of not finding the door. And no, it wasn’t me.

Public restrooms come in all sizes and layouts. We’ll assume in a one-person restroom, you can figure it out. In a small, narrow, shared restroom, all three fixtures might be on the same wall with the sink closest to the door.

Larger restrooms have no standard layout. But, you know what you need has to be in there somewhere. In the largest restrooms, urinals or even troughs and stalls may be in an adjoining area. Navigating these multi-space types can be the most challenging. Should you feel the need to ask for directions from a fellow occupant, having your cane in hand, will likely result in a helpful response.

For this discussion, we’ll assume you’re dealing with a large, single room facility. Your goal is to create a mental floor plan to follow when you wish to exit. This starts the moment you step from the hall through the entry door or opening. So, here goes.

Begin remembering each turn and/or secondary door through which you passed to reach the main space. Pause and notice what is immediately next to you. This is your exit landmark and remember it well. It could be a full length mirror, the end of the row of sinks, or maybe a large trash can. Remember if it is on your left when you enter, it needs to be on your right when you wish to leave.

Sorry if this is starting to sound like an episode of Mission Impossible. But if it helps you, hum the theme song as you continue your mission. Grin.

If it’s a busy place, step out of the walkway as you confirm your exit landmark. Perhaps, you can tell if you’re alone in there or not. If you’re holding your white cane, pausing a moment won’t raise any concern. I’ve even received some unsolicited useful information from another guy in there.

If the restroom is in use, helpful sounds might identify fixture locations. If you think you’ve spotted them, mark their location on your mental map. Sometimes a ceiling or wall light is located above skinks and urinal, if you can make use of that clue.

If you’re alone in there and the you’re clueless about where the urinals might be, this is where your white cane is particularly handy. Don’t rush, keep track of how you’re moving with respect to your exit landmark. Once you’ve found them and taken care of business, you’re ready for the sinks.

If you already found the sinks, great, retrace your path back to them. If the sinks aren’t yet on your mental map, running water sounds might help. Resume your search. Again, keep in mind where your exit landmark sits.

Once you’re finally at a sink, challenges still remain. You must get water to flow, soap to dispense, find and operate the hand drying device and maybe find a waste basket. I won’t try to describe the many types of such devices and possible locations. So, I hope you’ve already encountered and mastered many of them.

Now, if you were successful in creating your mental map, turn to your exit landmark, and confidently head to the exit.

While it can at times be a stressful experience, I sincerely hope you found something in this post to help you or you could share.

Thank you and happy traveling
Edward Cohen
EZ2See® Products LLC

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