Out And About Without Sight

I yesterday joined a webinar on navigation for blind and low vision people. Lots of words and many of them I did not understand. But for nearly 80 years I have navigated hugely round the world as a nearly blind person. I am rightly excited about the future of outdoor, indoor and unstructured environment navigation aids for us. But I see the technology as merely the icing on the cake and the final tool to add to the bag of tools I already carry round with me when I go out and about everywhere. The tool bag is as follows and I may miss some tools I take for granted. They are in no particular order or level of importance to me.

My brain

It seems to integrate lots of the below elements  almost unconsciously so I can call up the tools I need to make my journeys. 

My memory

I can recall journeys I made years ago, houses, factories and offices I visited, steps that tripped me by surprise, people who helped me when I was lost. In my head, I know the journey to the taxi outside Peterborough station and the layout of the Wolverhampton Eye Infirmary I have not visited since 1966.

My very limited vision

Although I see little detail, even as a child I could recognise the red house,the big tree,the large advertising board. All such items were landmarks of reassurance on a familiar journey.

My sense of smell

I know when I am in the newsagents,the chemist, the barbers or the vets and other shops offices or even particular parts of town. The hospital or Doctor’s smell as a child was absolutely enough toignite all sorts of emotions and memories.

Most useful in shopping malls Costa Coffee means I am outside Marks & Spencer’s; The smell of fish and chips tells me I am not in the newsagent’s next door.

.My smiling face

It’s a case of as others see us. Lots more help if you appear happy etc.

My wish to move about

I travelled the country to be with a girl or go for a new job.

My experiences

In my case an abundance of good experiences far outweighs the bad ones. But a senior losing her sight, tripping on a step, embarrassed at not recognising her next door neighbour: Well off to a bad start will take some remedying.

My parenting

My sensible and risk-taking parents allowed me to explore the world and picked me up when I faltered.

My mobility training

In recent years as my bit of sight weakened, A lovely mobility lady updated my white cane skills and laid the foundation for me getting a guide dog.

My self-esteem

Pretty high based on realising I am an expert at living with very little sight; not a victim of it or handicapped by it.

My guide dog

First guide dog at 78, I now walk faster and more upright than I have done for …ever.

My white cane

Just now it is safe in the cupboard, not needed for the time being but ready for action at any time. It is a symbol that I can’t see and might need help; it finds steps and obstacles and it gives me that sense of being OK when I am out and about.  Sometimes, although I have a gorgeous guide dog, I make a white cane journey just to keep up my skills.

My In Your Pocket Phone

I don’t have a navigation app but I do have an app which tells me within 5/10 metres where I am, what’s around and enables me to label points of personal interest such as dog bins, safe crossing points and even overhead branches. I would like it to work indoors.

My confidence

Same as self-esteem based around a good parental start and years of positively getting on with stuff.

The wind

Being aware of the moving air near the door coming out of a strange building or a sudden blast of wind marking the end of a wall or hedge

The sun

I am always aware of the position of the sun in the sky when shining  along with a knowledge of the time of day.

The overall colour of things

I don’t see much detail but have a sense of the overall colour of a building, poster,  shop front  or vehicle, even person. This is a huge help and, in the right context, my brain can make much of this meagre visual information.


Its crucial to learn to be relaxed when asking help or receiving  help/rescue  from others.

Shoes and the sole of my feet

The sound of the floor under my feet, the echo as I enter a larger room, unevenness of pavement, up or down slopes; Just a few of the clues my shoes give me as to where I have got to on a known journey.


With In Your Pocket phone in hand, I walk with a seeing guide and mark vital spots on the journey. The phone speaks them to me every time I pass by.  Absolutely essential  in the country park environment where we live: Twisty paths, lakes and a river.  No other signposts for me and no street names.


I have so many tools I can manage pretty well if some are not available to me at any time.

My mental maps

Hugely powerful tool made up of millions of in the head impressions of journey and place peculiar to me. I can even remember my home when I was under five years old and the journey to the air raid shelter  in the garden.

I have had a virtual navigation existence for yonks  and if you want to learn more, encourage other blind and low vision people to share their expertise possibly but not necessarily before embarking on study or creating nav solutions.

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