Getting Around Safely

Getting Around Safely

Posted on Oct.15, 2014, by , under Educational, Eye Health, Living With Low Vision, Low Vision Info, Low Vision Tips

Getting around safely and comfortably can be a challenge for those with vision problems. My father-in-law who has wet macular degeneration has found this to be true in many situations – such as navigating a self serve buffet to get his food, his drink, and to find his table or leaving the restroom at an airport and going the wrong direction back to his gate. New circumstances can create apprehension and anxiety when a person doesn’t have the skills to assess and navigate new surroundings.

However as with any obstacles in life, there are things a person can do to help minimize the difficulty in getting around when a person can’t rely on their sight. There are trained professionals who specialize in helping people with just this type of need. They are called Orientation and Mobility specialists. According to Lynne Laney, a retired Orientation and Mobility Specialist, “Orientation and Mobility is the art and science of teaching skills for safe travel and independence for persons with visual impairment.” It teaches independence, confidence and safety.

This type of training is one-on-one and can be conducted in the home, workplace, or out in the community. After the students’ needs are assessed the instructor will determine the number of sessions that are needed. The assessment includes not only the student’s visual needs, but the student’s physical limitations and their hearing acuity. Included in the training are:

1. The use of distance magnifiers, like monoculars
2. How to use a white cane
3. How to use one’s hearing
4. How to utilize one’s usable vision
5. How to use the sense of touch, including one’s feet
6. How to use the sense of smell
7. Learning to ask for information from the public
8. Use of colored filtered glasses to enhance contrast to see steps and curbs

It is important for the student to be able to identify and verbalize what they want to be able to accomplish – such as getting to a local coffee shop, picking up prescriptions at a drugstore, or shopping at a nearby farmer’s market. Once the instructor knows the goals of the student, the instructor can then assist them in how to travel by bus, how to use a white cane, or how to safely walk to their destination.

For different reasons, many people with vision loss resist the use of a white cane. By seeing this aid as a tool that empowers rather than a sign of a disability, those with low vision can experience more freedom and independence. Since a white cane symbolizes a visual problem, it also helps the public identify a visual disability without one having to explain it. Ms. Laney shares from her experience;, “For over thirty years I have witnessed what a difference the use or non use of the cane makes in the real world. The cane is a source of empowerment and should be viewed as an extremely valuable tool. “


Leslie Degner, RN, BSN