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The Basics

Might As Well Get Up

So far, everything I have discussed, and the tips to go along, can be done sitting down. If getting up and walking around are not in your wheelhouse, there are many more things you can do, but for now, I want to shift to walking around.

Let me just skip right over how easy walking around is if you can see. I can’t see and walking around is for me, a daily challenge. Let’s also get past the notion that, even though you can’t see, it’s possible for you to learn to walk around, never tripping, bumping into things, knocking things over and not even occasionally banging your head or other sensitive area into a wall or stray chair. Maybe someone who can’t see, somewhere, but not me and most likely, not you either. Bumps, bruises and similar annoyances are inevitable, if walking around is in your daily routine.

I have a robot vacuum cleaner that has learned to vacuum the floors in my house, without any additional directions or intervention. Okay, it only usually vacuums my house without any intervention by me, except when it gets stuck or can’t find its way back to its dock. I call it Jake. If it successfully vacuums and returns to its dock, I can say, “That’s just Jake.” If it gets stuck or can’t find its way home, that’s just a Jake mistake.

Here’s the point. Jake made itself a map of my house which it now uses to vacuum. With a little human help, it knows where each room is, how to get from room to room and its way back to its dock, most of the time. Making its map took a while, but it is pretty independent now. Just Jake, don’t you think?

Here’s the deal. I’m smarter than Jake, and so are you. I can make a mental map of my house and can use it when walking around. Making my mental map took a while, but now that I have it, walking around my house is just Jake, most of the time.

Step one is to make the mental map of my space. I have one for my house and others for places I regularly go. When I go to a new location, I immediately start making a mental map of that place. The longer I am at a specific location and the more often I return there, the better my mental map for that location gets.

“How do I make a mental map,” you ask? If possible, I get someone to show me around, I ask about the location where I am, I listen to the sounds and noises around me and to what people around say about where things are and what they look like. Over time, I collect more and more data about the place. The more data I collect and the more familiar I become with the location, the more useful my mental map becomes.

Is that the end of it? Is having a really good mental map of a place all there is to it? Would that that were true. I could just focus on my mental map and walk around with no mistakes, errors or issues. But instead of being the end of it, having a working mental map is what gamblers call table stakes. You need that mental map just to get into the walking around game. Without it, you are lost and would be well-advised to stay seated. At least, in your chair, you aren’t likely to bump into a wall or trip over the dog toys on the floor. – But if that’s not Jake for you, make a mental map everywhere you are and everywhere you go.

Up and Moving

Okay, it’s time to get up and moving. But not so quick. I do have a couple of thoughts to share first.

If you’ve not been able to see for a long time, this is probably nothing new or particularly interesting for you. I’m sure tempted to skip on past the basics to the good stuff, including phone apps and cool gadgets. I might even suggest a few podcasts specifically for those of us who can’t see. But all in good time. First, I need to share a few tips with those of you who recently joined the can’t see club, and also with those of you who just want to understand how those of us who can’t se do what we do.

First, a white cane or handy stick of some sort would likely be helpful as you get up and about. I did tell you that I don’t know everything about not seeing, or how other people are able to do what they do without seeing, didn’t I? Well, this is one of those times. I have never used a white cane and don’t actually know how to use one. People who are proficient with a white cane have a skill set that I simply don’t have. Nonetheless, if you can’t see and get a chance to learn how to use a white cane, go for it, without any hesitation. It would be a good addition to your skill set.

Second, if someone is going to help you get around, they are likely to hold your arm or hand, trying to guide or lead you. This usually doesn’t work out very well. Better is for you to hold their arm or touch them. What makes the difference, you ask?

That is a great question. It’s the difference between being lead and following. Following is much easier. With the best of intentions, people holding you will tend to push and pull. When they do, it’s hard to know exactly what they want you to do or which direction they want you to go. Much easier is to hold their arm and follow them. I don’t think I fully understand the difference well enough to completely explain it, but for me, following is always better. Try it both ways to see which works best for you.

Just as an aside, when it comes to getting up and walking around, I have a tip and a caution, but I’m starting with the caution. More often than not, if you bump into something or bang your head, the reason is simple. You started moving before you gave any thought to where you are and how to get to where you want to be.

The next most likely reason for those bumps and bangs is not thinking about where you want to go and how you are doing as you move toward where you want to be. You just start out without any further thought. The point is that you stop paying attention at your own risk. It usually turns out fine, but now and then, you will wish that you had been more attentive.

Now that I have gotten us past the preliminaries, let’s get to the first tip. Yes, there are quite a few tips and techniques for moving around without seeing, but let’s start with what I think is likely principle number 1.

• It’s all about the angles.

I’m going to assume that you want to walk around where you live. We can start inside and save outside for later.

You have made a mental map of where you live, haven’t you? You need it now. The more detailed your mental map is, the easier moving around will be.

The key to walking around without running into things or getting somewhere you didn’t want to be is moving from point to point on your mental map, and not trying to go from where you are straight to where you want to be. It actually is as easy as that.

As you walk, you know you are at the next waypoint when you touch it with your hand, or perhaps your leg. Keep your hand up so you find the wall or other waypoint before banging into it. It’s not necessary to reach out. It’s usually enough to just hold your arm up some, with your hand bent forward. You only need to walk slowly enough to give yourself a chance to stop once your hand touches the wall, or corner, or perhaps the refrigerator.

Here’s the deal with those angles. As you walk toward the next waypoint, you can easily miss it, if you don’t get the angle right. Take the second it takes to face where you think the waypoint is before starting to walk. If you are facing the waypoint, you need only walk straight to it, which is sometimes harder than it sounds.

You face the waypoint before you start toward it. Based on your mental map, you know about how far it is away. Your skill with getting it right will improve in time. Even so, you won’t always end up where you wanted to go. Yes, you can and will become disoriented in your own house or living area. It happens to all of us who can’t see. When you do become disoriented, stop. Don’t just wander around. Move slowly in one direction until you find something familiar. Reorient yourself, and away you go.

If there are people who can see in the area when you get disoriented, they will try to verbally guide you. That usually doesn’t work out very smoothly. Better if they quietly tell you where you are. Sure, if they see a hazard, they should stop you from hurting yourself or damaging something. Even so, the best help is for them to just tell you where you are, or usually even better, just wait until you get yourself reoriented.

Pro tip: put a rug by the door or perhaps under the coffee table. That gives you a foot guide when you step onto the rug. Also notice where the floor surface changes and add that to your mental map.

That’s all too much. You’re not going to all that bother. It’s just a big nuisance. No problem, if you’re okay with not getting up and around, or perhaps you don’t mind knocking things over, breaking things, and of course, there are all of those bumps and bruises you could have avoided. Even so, it’s your call.

There is a small fact of life that is frequently overlooked. Here it is. Just because doing something isn’t complicated, doesn’t mean that doing it is easy or simple. This important point definitely applies to doing without seeing.

The tips and strategies for doing without seeing that I have discussed so far haven’t been particularly complicated. Nonetheless, adding each tip or strategy to our personal skill set is far from easy or simple. They require a degree of attention, concentration and practice that can seem to be unreasonable and hardly worth the effort. On any given occasion, they are hardly worth the bother – and they are a lot of bother at times.

Here is the issue. Those of us who can’t see have limited options. Either we go to the bother of incorporating the tips and strategies into our skill set, or we are permanently disabled, unable to do what we want to do, when we want to do it. The things we want to do are either off the table or left to the discretion and good will of people who can see.

We each get to choose; and I’m assuming that you are choosing to do for yourself, whenever you can, as much as you can.