By: Johanna Stork, Orientation and Mobility Specialist with three winters experience in Halifax, Nova Scotia.
This winter has been tough on everyone, but it’s particularly important for people with vision loss to be extra prepared to navigate the snowy, icy, slippery terrain.
My first suggestion is to slow down. There are techniques for walking in snowy conditions, but you never know what to expect. A patch of ice or a boulder of snow could unexpectedly hit your path, and could be harmful if they catch you by surprise. Periods of melting and refreezing create a big head-ache, as I know well living in Halifax! Black ice is not visible or cane detectable, so if there’s a chance there could be ice, be cautious and take it slow. Many people wear rubber boot covers that have metal ice grips on the bottom for peace of mind for winter travel.
People with vision loss often rely on tactile clues – for example, the surface changing from pavement to grass – to navigate. However, snow can often cover these clues, making the surfaces nearly impossible to decipher. For light snow, try using a harder touch than usual, or a “touch and slide” technique, both which could help uncover some tactile clues like a shoreline or a curb.
Before sidewalks have been cleared, other pedestrians often clear and pat down a footpath that can be followed. If there is enough of a path worn into the deep snow by others, a narrow skimming technique can be used to detect it.
Another issue that arises frequently is the snowbank that plows can leave, especially along corner lots. While the plows ensure the streets are cleared, they leave a sometimes large bank across sidewalks and driveways. When you encounter the bank, you can rest your cane on its top and drag it far to the left and right to see if previous pedestrians have worn a path through. If they haven’t, you can either back track to the last clear driveway, or climb over the bank. When climbing, be sure to climb down sideways, and align with the parallel traffic once you are over the bank.
After a heavy snow fall like the ones we’ve been having, you need to rely heavily on your straight line of travel and auditory clues like traffic and building lines. And remember – if you are feeling at all unsafe about travelling after a storm, take a bus, a taxi, or arrange alternative transportation.
Information for this blog was informed by: Orientation and Mobility Techniques; A Guide for the Practitioner. By Evrett Hill and Purvis Ponder. AFB Press.