Menu Close

The Basics

Noise Is usually Good

I’ve focused on walking around our homes or living areas. The strategy is to start with our mental map of our area. It’s not a one and done kind of thing. We continue to improve our mental map by adding and correcting the details. The more time we spend in the area, the more detailed and the more accurate our mental map gets.

I’ve also pointed out that a good strategy for moving around is to get into the habit of walking from known point to known point. I call those points “landmarks.” The idea is to take a moment to make sure you are facing the next landmark before starting to walk. Now walk directly toward that landmark. In your home, this strategy is important, but once you go outside, it becomes critical. Practicing at home is your best bet for safely mastering the technique.

If options were limited to following our mental maps, walking around would be difficult but doable. The good news is that we can do better than simply relying on our mental maps. I mentioned paying attention to the floor. Notice when you step on a rug or when the floor changes from carpet to wood. The idea is that changes in the floor surface become additional landmarks on our mental maps. The same notion will apply outside when the surface where we are walking changes.

I also mentioned touching things. Keeping our hands up helps us touch things before banging into them, but also helps us identify landmarks in our environments such as chairs, walls and appliances.

The added tip here is listening. Along with touching and feeling, your home or living area makes sounds. Where I live, the furnace just turned on. I also hear the ice maker in the refrigerator. Different areas make different sounds, letting me know a little more about where I am at any particular time. The traffic sounds are outside in front of the house, the birds are chirping outside the back door, and on and on. My living environment is not loud but is noisy, and yours likely is too. Again, listening becomes even more important when we leave our familiar environments and venture into unfamiliar outside and inside spaces.

Here’s what I think is an especially useful tip. Leave a radio or TV playing whenever you are at home and awake. Along with being auditory company, the sound is a consistent and continuous landmark that you can use from most anywhere in your living area. I’ve done this for a long time and am still surprised at times by how helpful the sound is, particularly when I become momentarily disoriented now and then. If you don’t already do this, give it a try.

A Head’s Up

I mention walking outside and in unfamiliar inside places. The tips I include are minor and only intended to suggest a few things to keep in mind.

Walking from place to place outside and in new places without a helper who can see, requires a skill set that all of us who can’t see need, but should only develop with the assistance of a qualified mobility professional. Additionally, I don’t know any way to develop those skills without learning how to use a white cane or guide dog.

Where you live and spend most of your time likely is doable, whether you live in an apartment or on a farm. The key is that you have a good mental map of the area and are aware of any risky areas or hazards. Also, when you become disoriented – and you will – there is minimal risk of getting hurt.

I mentioned earlier that I don’t know how to use a white cane. I’m a guide dog user. My current guide dog is my seventh, so I have been trusting my mobility to a dog for a long time. Like most other strategies for doing what we want to do without seeing, getting out and about by ourselves requires high motivation, determination and practice and then more practice. On any given day, it’s easier to just stay home. The important thing to know is that going wherever you want to go is possible but requires skills only acquired with the assistance of qualified mobility trainers.

Talk and Tell

That’s it for the heads-up. Let’s get back to moving around in our personal living space. I earlier suggested leaving a radio or TV playing as an orientation device. The sound is a known landmark on our mental map. But it gets even better. Here’s where the fun starts. Those of us who can’t see have what sometimes seems like unlimited technology out there to help us do what we want to do.

Does thinking about all that technology get you excited, or does it cause you to shrug and turn away? If technology is something that interests you, you are ready to ramp up your skill set for doing what you want to do. If instead, you aren’t interested and don’t think technology is for you, you have made a life altering decision, although you may not know you are making it. You have decided to be satisfied with the status quo. You already have all the help you need or want, to do what you do, and just leaving things as they are is sufficient for you. – No problem. It really is your choice.

Sure, I’ll be getting to cell phones and computers; but for starters, I’m very impressed with the Amazon Echo and the Google wireless speaker. You need the little speaker for either. I suspect you already have one or the other. The cool part isn’t so much the gadget, but rather the assistant that talks to us. For Amazon’s Echo, she is Alexa, and for the Google gadget, I call him the Google Guy.

We’ll come back to both devices from time to time, but for now, let’s get back to walking around our living areas. Alexa and the Google Guy are great orientation helpers. Since I know where they are located in my living space, I can just ask anything – It doesn’t matter what I ask. – I get a response and immediately am oriented to where I am in relation to the voice. It’s better for me than a radio or TV, especially when I don’t want them on all day.

You are undoubtedly getting the idea. Listening is, for those of us who can’t see, our most important orientation device. If you can’t see and also can’t hear, you have two serious issues; and I don’t know how to help with the can’t hear issue. But there are people who can help. The first step is to identify someone who can’t hear or knows how to help people who can’t hear. They likely can head you in the right direction to get some assistance.

There are a lot of sounds in our environments and ways to add sounds. Radios and TVs are good but adding Alexa or the Google Guy may be even better. Along with being great sources of information and entertainment, both are excellent orientation devices. Ask anything, and you get a response. Since you know where the device is in your environment, it’s easy to know where you are in relation to it. They are better than a radio or TV, since they only make noise when you want noise. The rest of the time, they are just waiting to give you a little orientation prompt.

Is all of this easy peasy, a piece of cake? Definitely not. Is it doable with time and effort? It is, to the extent you can develop the skills and so long as you are willing to manage the frustration and hard work. Developing the know-how and skills is tedious. Having the knowledge and skills is totally terrific.