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Two giant feet are standing in the snow with snow chains wrapped around the bottoms. There is a tiny person next to the shoe who is all bundled up in a giant puffy coat.

Walking in a Winter Hazard-land

If you are somewhere you are able to observe nature, you are seeing the signs. Winter is coming (or depending when this gets published, it might be here...or on its way out, whatever! Back on track, Sue!)

I like winter

Now people think I am crazy - like THAT is a surprise - but I actually like winter. I put on enough clothing I resemble the Michelin man and out I go. So far I haven’t ended up in any snowbanks I cannot get out of but last winter I went down like a box of rocks in the driveway. Felt that one for awhile!

Winter dangers for the visually impaired

In other words, I get why some people don’t like winter. And I get why winter is harder for the visually impaired. Agathe Ratelle writing for the Transportation Research Board back in January 2012 reported winter is one of the greatest barriers for people with physical disabilities. This is especially true of the visually impaired. Orientation, crossing streets and a little thing called ice were mentioned as problems. Since the article was written for people involved with transportation research, they came up with quick and efficient city maintenance as their answer to the problem.

Do I need to state the obvious? Let’s put it this way: around here, I can get a lot of cross country skiing done on the road before the plows come to “ruin” my course.

Minimizing winter walking hazards

So, what can we do to help ourselves while we wait for the snowplow? And even after it has been through, for that matter. Sandy Murillo writing for the Chicago Lighthouse last year made some helpful suggestions.

Dress for the weather

First of all, we agree. Dress for the weather! There is no shame in looking like the Michelin man when temperatures are below freezing. There are many a slip between the door and the mailbox and a cardigan over your nightie will not keep you warm enough. Coat; got it?

Find backup landmarks

Murillo also warned against the “magical” changes that occur when your neighborhood becomes a winter wonderland. All of the landmarks you may normally use have become snowbanks. Also, sounds are muffled and you may not hear things you normally use for orientation and safety. My personal suggestion would be to try to find backup landmarks before the snows come and absolutely every article I scanned suggested walking slowly and deliberately and taking your time when navigating winter terrain. Be careful! Double-check for cars.

Penguin walk

The people at the Wisconsin Council of the Blind and Visually Impaired suggested the “penguin walk” in their piece on safe winter walking. At some time or other we have all probably done this. Feet splayed outwards. Hands a bit away from our sides. Now waddle! The March of the Penguins redux!

Wear ice cleats

Other than walking like a penguin while looking like the Michelin man, we should probably think about wearing ice cleats. I have a pair I was given but never wore. My orientation and mobility guy thought they would be a good idea for me. I am just not good at following instructions...thus my “graceful” imitation of a box of rocks hitting the pavement last winter...you know; that really hurt!

Stay hands free

The people in Wisconsin suggested having your hands free. Probably so you can flail wildly and be amusing as you go down but they said it was for holding on to sighted guides and handrails and some such things. For me, that would mean wearing a backpack, but if I am dressed like the Michelin man and doing the penguin walk, I don’t think a backpack would hurt my image much; do you?

But seriously, they live in Wisconsin! They gotta know something about winter; right? So, all together now dress warmly, put on your backpacks and your cleats and lets all do the penguin walk! Imitating the Michelin man AND a penguin sure beats imitating a box of rocks. Ouch!

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