Getting Around

By Beth Sanderson

A while back, I decided I needed to work on some O&M skills, specifically going up and down stairs. I’ve
always hated stairs, ever since I was little; I’ve had a fear of them I could never really explain. I’ve never
fallen down them, and I don’t think it’s connected to my blindness. Every time I start to go up or down
stairs, my heart races, and my breathing gets just a bit faster.
But there are times you just have to use stairs. We had a fire drill at work, and I had to go down the
stairs then, and one of my very best friends lives in a second floor walkup apartment near the Duck
Pond. I can’t exactly just burn up, if there’s a fire, and I refuse to stop visiting my friend, so the only
recourse was to get more comfortable using the stairs.
I have to say that using my cane helps. It makes me feel a bit more secure, when I have to face my
mortal foe, and it’s been a life changing ally in gaining my independence. But I still hate stairs, and I
wasn’t likely to practice them without serious prompting, even though this was my idea to start with.
So one of my friends came to get me, and we went to St. Vincent Mall. They have little sets of three and
four steps throughout the mall, and we both figured this would make the perfect place to start
practicing. My friend wasn’t content with just following me around as I walked up and down the steps.
No, she decided she wanted to learn how my cane worked, and just what was possible when using one,
so I got one of my old canes for her to use, and off we went.
It was an interesting experience, being the instructor, rather than the student, as we navigated the mall.
I showed her how to find and trail the tiles that run along the outer wall of the mall, right at the store
entrances, and how to navigate back to her landmarks, when she lost her way. We walked up and down
steps, and figured out ways to orient ourselves based on textures, smells, and sounds. And she kept her
eyes closed the entire time, refusing to “cheat” and check where she was, or how far away her
destination was.
There was a humorous moment when one of the associates in a store came out to the main walkway,
and asked if we needed assistance finding anything, since she’d seen us walking back and forth for
several minutes. At that point, I explained that we were just working on some mobility skills, and she
turned to my friend, and asked how long she’d been blind. At this point, we both had to laugh and
explain that actually she could see just fine, and I was the blind one. The associate also laughed, and said
she couldn’t tell, from watching us.
We still go, whenever we have time, and work on basic mobility skills in public places, because it never
hurts to have a refresher, and it’s always more fun with friends. I do make it a point to tell anyone we
encounter that I am not a trained O&M Instructor, and am not qualified to teach mobility, but it’s still a
fun way to practice, and to show the general public that there are all sorts of things a blind person can do, when they have the right skillset.