How do you walk home on your own without sight?

Hello all, my name is Andrew Rose and I’ve lost my sight due to a condition called Retinitis Pigmentosa. Please join me in the series of blogs that I've created with Henshaws where I share my experiences of independent travel to help those living with sight loss.

I came to Henshaws in 2010 and the team’s skills, expertise and understanding helped me to learn to live with sight loss when I needed it most. I am now, very proudly, a member of the Board of Trustees providing my own expertise in business and finance. I have written a series of blogs on how I travel around independently, using public transport – see my previous blog posts on using trains and trams.

The reason I have created these is to provide education to the wider public and hopefully a little entertainment. Most importantly though I have created them so that other members of the blind and visually impaired community might learn from my experiences.

Andrew at One Mans Vision exhibition

Travelling on foot

I’m outside the library near my home in Warrington and I set off back towards the indicative roundabout. When I’m walking somewhere the entertainment is very different depending on the light conditions; after one too many painful collisions using my hiking stick in the dark, the wider-sweeping roller ball white cane comes out.

Either way, neither has ever saved me from the overhanging foliage of the horse chestnuts flanking the pavement. Branches tap my head and leaves brush my face. My floppy hat gives me some forewarning and some protection – my reactions have always been quick, but they’ve certainly been maintained; the wide brim is not just for keeping light out of my eyes.

After the trees, the natural thing would be to follow the curve of the pavement. However, due to Culcheth centre obstacles – millennium clock (no collision to date), bollards (shins/knees), lampposts (head/face/hand), half metre high sawn trunks (hips/knees/hands), I go off piste into a small car park, dealing with cars parked and mobile, rejoining the pavement at the end of the car park.

There is then a pedestrian crossing.  Whether I use it depends on whether I’m going to the supermarket or pub or whether I’m going straight home. The pub is on the opposite side and about 250m further up. Even when coming from the other direction I always use the pedestrian crossing even though it adds 500m to my walk; the reason being the advent of the electric car and the diminishment of the bicycle bell – I know both as the ‘silent assassins!’

I walk up the main road until the first opportunity to take a quieter road home, less traffic means I can hear people’s footsteps coming the other way. At a T-junction in the quieter housing estate there are a couple of handily placed white bollards to stop parking. Due to the contrast against tarmac I readily spot them, unless of course its been snowing, needless to say ice adds greater complexity and greater opportunity for pain – I’ve broken a few ribs going over on the ice!

During the day I can generally negotiate many obstacles. Wheelie-bin day causes issues though as I slalom round them. I come to an abrupt stop when my stick/cane hits one. Cars parked on the pavement push me out into the road. I actually prefer walking on the road as opposed to the pavement as its better maintained and there are less curbs and undulations to navigate. In fact, at night when my propensity to walk into parked cars increases exponentially, I will walk down the middle of the road, and car headlights coming indicate that I need to move back to the pavement, which I do before returning to the middle of the road. I can only see the parked cars at night if the street lights reflect off the windscreens. In fact when walking in the dark I can only see the seemingly floating street lights and car headlights.

Other hazards include randomly placed road work signs and doggy doo. Apart from not being able to see it and stepping in it, when I’m using my white cane sweeping it from side to side, you can tell where I’ve been as I leave the mark of Zorro. Dog owners “Pick it up,” and that message goes for guide dog owners too.

If I’ve made it to my road without incident, I look for the structure of the outside lights of my house so I know where to walk to (I can’t see the house itself at night). However, our next door neighbours have a similar light structure so I’ve been known to walk up their drive. Getting around with limited sight can be frustrating, but it’s rarely dull and I’d rather maintain as much independence as possible.

If you would like information or guidance on mobility, using public transport or general support in maintaining your independence, then get in touch with our Enablement Team on 0300 222 5555.

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