Keeping Safe With Vision Loss

When I had my last dogs, we were walking and the coyotes were howling on the hillside. When the coyotes started excitedly barking and yipping, my dogs both did a 180 and started leading me back to the house. I did as they advised.

After some inquiry, I learned the howls were the gathering of the pack and the barks and yips were the start of the hunt. Time to go home — and my pups, with no “official” coyote experience, knew that.

How do visually impaired people stay safe?

On a more recent evening, we got to the T-intersection close to that same hillside, and my current dogs stopped dead and took about a minute to smell the air. After that minute, they executed a U-turn and started back home. I went along.

I have a friend who has a family enclave of houses on the hill. Her brother had been seeing a bear in the last few days.

The point of the story is this: even the best of places holds its dangers. My dogs have innate “knowledge” about the natural world. They instinctively respond to the yip of a coyote or the scent of a bear. I have shown the sense to listen to them so we can stay safe. What do we as VIPs do to show safety sense in our “natural” worlds?

Safety tips for people with vision loss

Here are a few suggestions for staying safe with vision loss, including when you have macular degeneration:

Be prepared

Make sure your devices are charged and let someone know where you are going. Glean whatever knowledge you can about where you are going before you go.

Pull up a map online and study it. Note landmarks and businesses. Confirm the address of where you are going. Likewise, know where you are being picked up to go home. Will your ride get you at the front door? Side door? Where is the bus stop? The train station?

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Be aware of your surroundings

If you are in a building, you will need to have some idea of where to find the stairs and/or elevators. Volunteers on the Be My Eyes app, for example, will help you read overhead signs and potentially get out faster in an emergency or if you become confused. Actually, they will do the same if you are outside, so don’t be afraid to call.

Always, always, always be aware of your surroundings. Take the hint! You may not have puppy-eating-predator-sensing dogs with you, but your own sixth sense is pretty dang good. If you are uncomfortable, leave the situation.

Keep directions or maps with you

If you are taking a cab or private car service, confirm it REALLY IS your ride. Anyone can pull up to you and ask if you called for a lift.

Once you are in the car, it does not hurt to make sure you are not getting the runaround — literally! Before smartphones, I would print out directions of the shortest route and sit there saying things like, “Oh, how neat... we should be passing Buckingham Palace in a minute!” This deterred a trip via the “scenic route” and kept the meter running a little more slowly.

Now, just set your GPS for the shortest route and let your device tell the cabbie that you may be blind, but you ain’t stupid!

Be specific when asking for directions

When asking for directions, I prefer to go into a shop rather than ask someone on the street. If you are in a tourist trap, nobody on the street knows either! Either way, be specific about what you are asking. You can also plug it into your GPS or ask Be My Eyes.

Prepare for arrival at your destination

Once you are getting out of your transportation at your destination, don’t be afraid to ask your driver to wait until you get inside. Have your keys ready to let yourself in. If you live with someone, call ahead and ask for help getting in the house with all your gear. If you live alone, buy a couple of timers to have lights on when you get there.

Keep yourself safe

The world can be a dangerous place, even in bucolic Central Pennsylvania. My pups and I know where we are going and what we might expect. Coyotes and bobcats and bears, oh my! If my pups suspect them, we are out of there. We keep ourselves safe. You do the same.

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