Tag: vision loss

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.

When Where You Are Is Not Where You Want To Be  

This Blog Post is quite different than my other ones.  This one came to me over time and seemed worth sharing.  I’m trying to put into words a philosophy for dealing with my vision-loss. It’s an attitude I’m trying to live by.   Perhaps it will strike a chord with you. Here’s how this thought came to me.

I have more trouble seeing now than I did about a year ago.  I have a couple of routes that I can walk to get to the store, the coffeeshop and downtown.  One is more shaded by trees than the other, so when it’s hot I take the more shaded route. While the coolness is nice, it is also darker.  A year ago, I could make out the curves in the sidewalk and paths where the shade was deepest.

However, this year I realized that I no longer could see the path in those shaded spots.  It was disheartening to face the reality that my eyesight had declined so much so fast. I stood there soaking in what this meant.  After a bit, with no visual clues, my handy long white cane found and kept me on the path. I slowly get past this and other sections and back on my way.  

Over time, I started to try and see beyond the deeply shaded sections.  If I could make out where the path picked up beyond these sections, I’d aim for them.   Combining confidence that comes from using my long white cane, some eyesight and this method, I’d get through these spots more quickly.  Later, I realized that if I could see someone on the path ahead of me, I’d try to use them as a moving target.

It was on one of those walks that it dawned on me that such a practice could be an allegory for the way one lives their life.  There will be times in our lives when we may feel lost, getting nowhere or unhappy with our current situation.

But if you have a big goal or a series of smaller goals, you have that spot in the path ahead to aim for.  If you don’t have such goals or if they are vague, work on them. Having goals and working towards them can be very helpful.

Image of Edward, owner of EZ2See

I also noticed that If someone was a bit ahead of me on the trail, I could use them to point the way forward. I translate this to mean, find or learn about someone who has walked a path similar to yours.  Especially if they are now in a “place” more like where you’d like to be. Guides, role models and mentors can make all the difference as you travel along your path.
Edward Cohen is the creator of the EZ2See® weekly planner/calendar.

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Saving Face: Spatial Awareness Suggestions

By saving face I don’t mean avoiding embarrassment, but it could mean that too.  I’m really talking about actually avoiding running your head or face into things while moving about your place.  Why in the world would this happen?

If you are someone who moves with ramrod straight posture, you can skip this blog post.  For the rest of us whose posture tends to assume a slight bow, read on.  

Moving in this way puts your head slightly forward of your torso.  In this position, with good eyesight in dark spaces, it’s potentially more likely for your head or face to contact the corners of walls or partially open doors.  

To reduce injury, consider these ideas.

  1. Try to always keep doors fully open or fully closed.  Close cabinet doors before walking away.
  2. Little lights can be helpful.  Put nightlights in selected outlets to offer some “navigation” aids. 
  3. Create your own “early warning system.”  This means that your hands will contact the object before the rest of you.  Use this defensive move when you aren’t positive of the situation, when going around corners or passing through doorways. Here’s how I do it.
    1. With your thumb pointing up, pivot one arm up so your hand is about centered on your body at a comfortable height.  Keep your fingers slightly curved towards you and won’t get jammed if they contact an object before the rest of you does.
    2. For extra protection, position both hands in front of you and lightly press your fingers together or rest one against the other’s palm or forearm.  Whatever seems comfortable to you, just be sure those fingers are several inches in front of any part of your face that you have become fond of.

But accidents can happen even when you’re standing still.  When you bend over, you can run your face into something below and in front of you.  The goal is to always remember to check before bending over.  Some things to remember to do before bending down:

  1. Sweep your foot or hand in front of you to see if something is there,
  2. Bend over slowly rather than immediately reaching for a dropped object,
  3. Take a step backwards before bending over, or  
  4. If you can, lower yourself instead of bending at the waist.  

Changing lifelong habits takes awhile.  The key is to begin to transition to habits that help you.  Let me know if you found something here helpful.  


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Image of Edward, owner of EZ2See

Edward Cohen is the creator of the EZ2See® weekly planner/calendar. 

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Finding Stuff, Part 2: Knowing Your Clothes

Finding stuff and then knowing what it is

Here are some tips to consider when poor eyesight impacts identifying your clothing items. What ever you do, it has to work for you.  Too many rules and it might not work over the long term.  You know yourself.  Find the right balance of simplicity and complexity that will help you.

  • The fewer variety of colors, patterns and styles you have, the less confusing it will be.
  • I love safety pins.  I use them to keep pairs of socks together before tossing them in the hamper.
  • By putting the pin at the top, heel or tow of the sock pair, it tells me the sock colors or material.
  • Do you have a pullover top that you have trouble identifying the front from the back?  Put a safety pin inside the rear collar.

Make your Closet a Helpful System

  • Organize related items by hanging them on the left or right side. If there are other natural dividers on the closet rod, use them.
  • Use different types of hangers for similar things.
  • Point the open end of the hanger hook facing towards or away for similar items.
  • Hang tops and bottoms that go together on the same hanger.
  • Let which side the buttons on a button up top face mean something.

If you swap out seasonal Items, maintain any order you’ve created by storing similar items together.

As I’ve said before, there are professionals trained in methods that will make your life easier.  Track down where you can find them.  Your state will have a program for either seniors or the blind.   Start by reaching out to them.

Lastly, if you have systems that work for you, please share them with me.

Image of Edward, owner of EZ2See

Edward Cohen is the legally-blind creater of the EZ2See® weekly planner/calendar.

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Sharing Tips I’ve Learned

Occasionally I’m invited to share lessons I’ve learned as I deal with vision loss and show some of the devices I find helpful.  At more than one, I’m encouraged to put this information on to the internet.  So here goes.

The first thing you need to know is that every state has a program specifically devoted to assisting people of all ages who are dealing with vision loss and blindness.  They are a tremendous resource, so seek out your state’s program.  Look for State Services for the Blind or something like it.  They have professionals who can come out to you and they may also be able to provide useful training, products and/or devices at no charge.  

Over my 60+ years, I slowly at first and later more rapidly, lost eyesight.  In a way, I’m lucky.  I’ve had the time to learn a lot of coping skills.  I’m convinced that a big part of dealing with vision loss is mental.  By mental, I mean the many unconscious habits we have.  Perhaps these actions were positive and helpful in the past.  But it’s likely that some of them are not anymore.  Some may now even be harmful or dangerous.  

Your challenge is to recognize those habits that are no longer helpful.  Let’s call them, “Habits to Stop” or H2S.  One clue that you’ve found an H2S is when you find yourself frustrated over something you just did such as walking in, setting your keys down and later can’t find them.  When you notice an H2S, you might even want to stop and say out loud, “Oh, an H2S”.  Finding and replacing it is the solution and your mission.

Once you’ve spotted an H2S, you’re on the path to success.  The next step is to find a replacement habit.   Lastly repeat it until it becomes subconscious and automatic.

In my next several blog posts, I will get very specific on the helpful habits I’m using.  I hope you’ll let me know if you find any of them helpful.  Perhaps you’ll share some of your own.

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