Can’t See? Try Rubber Bands, Paper Clips and Safety Pins

There is a point about Blind How that some visitors may find confusing. Question: “Who is Blind How for?”

If you can’t see and already have an extensive skill set for doing whatever you want to do, Blind How may be somewhat interesting, but isn’t for you. At the same time, I hope you will take the time to share what you’ve already figured out with those who haven’t. Send your tip or strategy to Tips@BlindHow.net. Please give others the benefit of your learning and experience.

Let me share an anecdote that speaks to who Blind How is for. I was listening to a podcast called iBUG Buzz. It’s produced by the folks at http://www.iBugToday.org. iBUG is a Blind Users Group for people who use or want to use iPhones, iPads, Apple Watches, Apple TVs and everything related. The website and the iBUG program has been around for more than ten years, but I just found out about it this week. I’m going to spend more time exploring its resources and options, and definitely recommend that you spend some time with it too.

Back to the anecdote. An individual (I’m calling her Sue, but I have no idea what her name actually is.) commented that she has been unable to see all of her life. As a child and on to being a young adult, Sue’s parents and others in her family were very supportive and also quite protective. With the best of intentions, they developed a pattern of doing most everything for her that children and adults who can see do without much thought. They obviously wanted to do everything they could do to make Sue’s life frustration and friction free. Their love was strong and heart-felt.

To her surprise and that of her family, Sue discovered that there are lots of people who can’t see who have learned to do most things they want to do without needing someone to help or to do them for them. Many people who can’t see have developed a skill set that neither she nor her family knew was possible.

Sure, Sue had developed her own skill set, but limited by others doing for her instead of her learning to do for herself. Her new awareness was that she could learn to use iPhones, computers and a range of other tech-toys that could open a world of experiences and opportunities that had been hidden from her. “Thanks, but I’ll do it for myself,” was a new and freeing experience. In addition to the tech-toys, she discovered a growing range of resources for people who can’t see that range from how to do most anything, to how others have adjusted to not being able to see, to techniques and strategies for managing more or less independently when she had things to do, places to go and people to see.

Is all of this easy peasy, a piece of cake, as they say? Definitely not. Is it doable with time and effort? It is, to the extent you can develop the skills and so long as you are willing to manage the frustration and hard work. Developing the know-how and skills is tedious. Having the knowledge and skills is totally terrific.

For this episode of Blind How, let’s start our tech journey with rubber bands, paper clips and safety pins. In the kitchen, put one rubber band around the cans of beans, and two for corn. In your closet, put one small safety pin inside the black pants, and two for the brown. Put a paper clip on the mail you want to keep, and none for the junk mail. I’ll bet you get the idea. Use something to designate which type of thing is which. Doing for yourself starts with being able to tell this from that. If you could see, it would be easy. When you can’t see, you need a system.

There are better ways of labeling your stuff, and we will get to them in time. For now though, get a good supply of rubber bands, paper clips and safety pins. Pro tip: You can also use big ones and little ones to add to your labeling options. Just be consistent, and – the most important tip – remember your system.

Can’t See? Try a Dog and The Google Guy

Let me start this episode of Blind How with a heads-up. I will be talking some about walking outside and in unfamiliar inside places. The tips I include will be minor and only intended to suggest a few things to keep in mind.

Walking from place to place outside and in new places without a helper who can see, requires a skill set that all of us who can’t see need, but should only develop with the assistance of a qualified mobility professional. Additionally, I don’t know any way to develop those skills without learning how to use a white cane or guide dog.

Where you live and spend most of your time likely is doable, whether you live in an apartment or on a farm. The key is that you have a good mental map of the area and are aware of any risky areas or hazards. Also, when you become disoriented – and you will – there is minimal risk of getting hurt.

I mentioned in an earlier episode of Blind How that I don’t know how to use a white cane. I’m a guide dog user. My current guide dog is my seventh, so I have been trusting my mobility to a dog for a long time. Like most other strategies for doing what we want to do without seeing, getting out and about by ourselves requires high motivation, determination and practice and then more practice. On any given day, it’s easier to just stay home. The important thing to know is that going wherever you want to go is possible; and there are people who can’t see who have already been there and done that.

That’s it for the heads-up. Let’s get back to moving around in our personal living space. In the last episode of Blind How, I suggested leaving a radio or TV playing as an orientation device. The sound is a known landmark on our mental map. But it gets even better. Here’s where the fun starts. Those of us who can’t see have what sometimes seems like unlimited technology out there to help us do what we want to do.

Does thinking about all that technology get you excited, or does it cause you to shrug and turn away? If technology is something that interests you, you are ready to ramp up your skill set for doing what you want to do. If instead, you aren’t interested and don’t think technology is for you, you have made a life altering decision, although you may not know you are making it. You have decided to be satisfied with the status quo. You already have all the help you need or want, to do what you do, and things as they are is sufficient for you. – No problem. It really is your choice.

Sure, I’ll be getting to cell phones and computers; but for starters, I’m very impressed with the Amazon Echo and the Google wireless speaker. You need the little speaker for either. I suspect you already have one or the other. The cool part isn’t so much the gadget, but rather the assistant that talks to us. For Amazon’s Echo, she is Alexa, and for the Google gadget, I call him the Google Guy.

We’ll come back to both devices from time to time, but for now, let’s get back to walking around our living areas. Alexa and the Google Guy are great orientation helpers. Since I know where they are located in my living space, I can just ask anything – It doesn’t matter what I ask. – I get a response and immediately am oriented to where I am in relation to the voice. It’s better for me than a radio or TV, especially when I don’t want them on all day.

You are undoubtedly getting the idea. Listening is, for those of us who can’t see, our most important orientation device. If you can’t see and also can’t hear, you have two serious issues; and I don’t know how to help with the can’t hear issue. But there are people who can help. The first step is to identify someone who can’t hear or knows how to help people who can’t hear. They likely can head you in the right direction to get some assistance.

There are a lot of sounds in our environments and ways to add sounds. Radios and TVs are good, but adding Alexa or the Google Guy may be even better.

Can’t See? Stop and Listen (Since looking is not an option)

There is a small fact of life that is frequently overlooked. Here it is. Just because doing something isn’t complicated, doesn’t mean that doing it is easy or simple. This important point definitely applies to doing without seeing.

The tips and strategies for doing without seeing that I have discussed so far on Blind How have not been particularly complicated. Nonetheless, adding each tip or strategy to our personal skill set is far from easy or simple. They require a degree of attention, concentration and practice that can seem to be unreasonable and hardly worth the effort. On any given occasion, they are hardly worth the bother – and they are a lot of bother at times.

Here is the issue. Those of us who can’t see have limited options. Either we go to the bother of incorporating the tips and strategies into our skill set, or we are permanently disabled, unable to do what we want to do, when we want to do it. The things we want to do are either off the table or left to the discretion and good will of people who can see.

We each get to choose; and I’m assuming that you are choosing to do for yourself, whenever you can, as much as you can.

In the last episode of Blind How, I focused on walking around our homes or living areas. The strategy is to start with our mental map of our area. It’s not a one and done kind of thing. We continue to improve our mental map by adding and correcting the details. The more time we spend in the area, the more detailed and the more accurate our mental map gets.

I also pointed out that a good strategy for moving around is to get into the habit of walking from known point to known point. I call those points “landmarks.” The idea is to take a moment to make sure you are facing the next landmark before starting to walk. Now walk directly toward that landmark. In your home, this strategy is important, but once you go outside, it becomes critical. Practicing at home is your best bet for safely mastering the technique.

If options were limited to following our mental maps, walking around would be difficult but doable. The good news is that we can do better than simply relying on our mental maps. In the last episode of Blind How, I mentioned paying attention to the floor. Notice when you step on a rug or when the floor changes from carpet to wood. The idea is that changes in the floor surface become additional landmarks on our mental maps. The same notion will apply outside when the surface where we are walking changes.

I also mentioned touching things. Keeping our hands up helps us touch things before banging into them, but also helps us identify landmarks in our environments such as chairs, walls and appliances.

The added tip for this episode of Blind How is listening. Along with touching and feeling, your home or living area makes sounds. Where I live, the furnace just turned on. I also hear the ice maker in the refrigerator. Different areas make different sounds, letting me know a little more about where I am at any particular time. The traffic sounds are outside in front of the house, the birds are chirping outside the back door, and on and on. My living environment is not loud but is noisy, and yours likely is too. Again, listening becomes even more important when we leave our familiar environments and venture into unfamiliar outside and inside spaces.

Here’s what I think is an especially useful tip. Leave a radio or TV playing whenever you are at home and awake. Along with being auditory company, the sound is a consistent and continuous landmark that you can use from most anywhere in your living area. I’ve done this for a long time and am still surprised at times by how helpful the sound is, particularly when I become momentarily disoriented now and then. If you don’t already do this, give it a try.

Do you have a tip for other Blind How listeners? Do you have a question needing an answer? Get in touch at Tips@BlindHow.net.

Can’t See? Walk or Stay Put, Your Choice

Okay, it’s time to get up and moving. But not so quick. I do have a couple of thoughts to share first.

If you’ve not been able to see for a long time, this is probably nothing new or particularly interesting for you. I’m sure tempted to skip on past the basics to the good stuff, including phone apps and cool gadgets. I might even suggest a few podcasts specifically for those of us who can’t see. But all in good time. First, I need to share a few tips with those of you who recently joined the can’t see club, and also with those of you who just want to understand how those of us who can’t se do what we do.

First, a white cane or handy stick of some sort would likely be helpful as you get up and about. I did tell you that I don’t know everything about not seeing, or how other people are able to do what they do without seeing, didn’t I? Well, this is one of those times. I have never used a white cane and don’t actually know how to use one. People who are proficient with a white cane have a skill set that I simply don’t have. Nonetheless, if you can’t see and get a chance to learn how to use a white cane, go for it, without any hesitation. It would be a good addition to your toolbox.

Second, if someone is going to help you get around, they are likely to hold your arm or hand, trying to guide or lead you. This usually doesn’t work out very well. Better is for you to hold their arm or touch them. What makes the difference, you ask?

That is a great question. It’s the difference between being lead and following. Following is much easier. With the best of intentions, people holding you will tend to push and pull. When they do, it’s hard to know exactly what they want you to do or which direction they want you to go. Much easier is to hold their arm and follow them. I don’t think I fully understand the difference well enough to completely explain it, but for me, following is always better. Try it both ways to see which works best for you.

Just as an aside, when it comes to getting up and walking around, I have a tip and a caution, but I’m starting with the caution. More often than not, if you bump into something or bang your head, the reason is simple. You started moving before you gave any thought to where you are and how to get to where you want to be.

The next most likely reason for those bumps and bangs is not thinking about where you want to go and how you are doing as you move toward where you want to be. You just start out without any further thought. The point is that you stop paying attention at your own risk. It usually turns out fine, but now and then, you will wish that you had been more attentive.

Now that I have gotten us past the preliminaries, let’s get to the first tip. Yes, there are quite a few tips and techniques for moving around without seeing, but let’s start with what I think is likely principle number 1. It’s all about the angles. I know, I mentioned that in the last episode of Blind How. Even so, it’s really true.

I’m going to assume that you want to walk around where you live. We can start inside and save outside for later.

You have made a mental map of where you live, haven’t you? You need it now. The more detailed your mental map is, the easier moving around will be.

The key to walking around without running into things or getting somewhere you didn’t want to be is moving from point to point on your mental map, and not trying to go from where you are straight to where you want to be. It actually is as easy as that.

As you walk, you know you are at the next waypoint when you touch it with your hand, or perhaps your leg. Keep your hand up so you find the wall or other waypoint before banging into it. It’s not necessary to reach out. It’s usually enough to just hold your arm up some, with your hand bent forward. You only need to walk slowly enough to give yourself a chance to stop once your hand touches the wall, or corner, or perhaps the refrigerator.

Here’s the deal with those angles. As you walk toward the next waypoint, you can easily miss it, if you don’t get the angle right. Take the second it takes to face where you think the waypoint is before starting to walk. If you are facing the waypoint, you need only walk straight to it, which is sometimes harder than it sounds.

You face the waypoint before you start toward it. Based on your mental map, you know about how far it is away. Your skill with getting it right will improve in time. Even so, you won’t always end up where you wanted to go. Yes, you can and will become disoriented in your own house or living area. It happens to all of us who can’t see. When you do become disoriented, stop. Don’t just wander around. Move slowly in one direction until you find something familiar. Reorient yourself, and away you go.

If there are people who can see in the area when you get disoriented, they will try to verbally guide you. That usually doesn’t work out very smoothly. Better if they quietly tell you where you are. Sure, if they see a hazard, they should stop you from hurting yourself or damaging something. Even so, the best help is for them to just tell you where you are, or usually even better, just wait until you get yourself reoriented.

Pro tip: put a rug by the door or perhaps under the coffee table. That gives you a foot guide when you step onto the rug. Also notice where the floor surface changes and add that to your mental map.

That’s all too much. You’re not going to all that bother. It’s just a big nuisance. No problem, if you’re okay with not getting up and around, or perhaps you don’t mind knocking things over, breaking things, and of course, there are all of those bumps and bruises you could have avoided. Even so, it’s your choice.

Can’t see? Try Mental Map Making

So far, everything I have discussed, and the tips to go along, can be done sitting down. If getting up and walking around are not in your wheelhouse, there are many more things you can do, but for now, I want to shift to walking around. I’ll get back in future episodes of Blind How to the wide range of stuff you can do without needing to walk.

Let me just skip right over how easy walking around is if you can see. I can’t see and walking around is for me, a daily challenge. Let’s also get past the notion that, even though you can’t see, it’s possible for you to learn to walk around, never tripping, bumping into things, knocking things over and not even occasionally banging your head or other sensitive area into a wall or stray chair. Maybe someone who can’t see, somewhere, but not me and most likely, not you either. Bumps, bruises and similar annoyances are inevitable, if walking around is in your daily routine.

I have a robot vacuum cleaner that has learned to vacuum the floors in my house, without any additional directions or intervention. Okay, it only usually vacuums my house without any intervention by me, except when it gets stuck or can’t find its way back to its dock. I call it Jake. If it successfully vacuums and returns to its dock, I can say, “That’s just Jake.” If it gets stuck or can’t find its way home, that’s just a Jake mistake.

Here’s the point. Jake made itself a map of my house which it now uses to vacuum. With a little human help, it knows where each room is, how to get from room to room and its way back to its dock, most of the time. Making its map took a while, but it is pretty independent now. Just Jake, don’t you think?

Here’s the deal. I’m smarter than Jake, and so are you. I can make a mental map of my house and can use it when walking around. Making my mental map took a while, but now that I have it, walking around my house is just Jake, most of the time.

Step one is to make the mental map of my space. I have one for my house and others for places I regularly go. When I go to a new location, I immediately start making a mental map of that place. The longer I am at a specific location and the more often I return there, the better my mental map for that location gets.

“How do I make a mental map,” you ask? If possible, I get someone to show me around, I ask about the location where I am, I listen to the sounds and noises around me and to what people around say about where things are and what they look like. Over time, I collect more and more data about the place. The more data I collect and the more familiar I become with the location, the more useful my mental map becomes.

Is that the end of it? Is having a really good mental map of a place all there is to it? Would that that were true. I could just focus on my mental map and walk around with no mistakes, errors or issues. But instead of being the end of it, having a working mental map is what gamblers call table stakes. You need that mental map just to get into the walking around game. Without it, you are lost and would be well-advised to stay seated. At least, in your chair, you aren’t likely to bump into a wall or trip over the dog toys on the floor. – But if that’s not Jake for you, make a mental map everywhere you are and everywhere you go.

That’s enough to think about for this episode of Blind How. In the next and future episodes, I will have some tips and suggestions for making mental maps and for how to use them, successfully and safely. Here’s a hint: it’s all about the angles.

Can’t See? Just Don’t Set It and Forget It

If you, like me, can’t see, set it and forget it has a whole other significance. I know, you don’t lose track of your stuff. You resent my suggesting that, just because you can’t see, you might not remember where you set something down or where you put it.

I apologize, so let me start this over. I sometimes set things down or put them somewhere and can’t remember where. Even worse, I look for whatever it was and end up knocking it over, spilling it or maybe just bumping it, with the result that it goes flying and I have an even harder time finding it.

If I could see, I would just look around and would usually find whatever was temporarily lost. I can’t. I don’t.

Okay, you’ve got the idea. I occasionally set it and forget it.

If that ever happens to you, here are a couple of tips. First, work on putting things away, where they belong. Yes, I’m actually serious. Even if you plan to use it again fairly soon, take the extra minute to put it away, back where it’s easy to find. It’s nearly as easy to get into the habit of putting things away as it is to habitually set things down willy-nilly. “I’ll put it away later” is mostly a sign of laziness. That isn’t much of an issue, unless you can’t see. But if you don’t mind not being able to find your stuff, don’t bother with getting into the habit of putting them away.

Here is my second tip. If you need to set something down while completing a task or activity, put it beside something else that doesn’t move, and that you always know where it is. This comes up when working in the kitchen, at your desk, in your workshop, etc. You need to lay down a tool or supply while you do something else. It needs to be handy when you need it.

The main point here is not to just randomly lay it down in an open area on a counter or other surface. Put it next to the wall, against an appliance or other object that you seldom move, or beside another fixed object. The idea is that you can first locate the spot that doesn’t move and then locate whatever you sat down.

This technique is much harder to explain than to do. It’s like having a mental map showing where things are. When setting something down, put it next to a familiar landmark on your mental map. Then, even if you forget where you put it, it’s easier to check near the usual landmarks than to have to randomly search around for it. It will make finding your stuff even easier if you get into the habit of trying to always use the same reference landmarks as much as you can. If you set things down beside the regular landmarks, they will be easier to find, when you set it but forget where.

A quick reminder and a tiny extra tip:

Remember to move your hand low and slow when reaching for whatever you have temporarily set aside or laid down. More detail about this is in an earlier episode of Blind How. The tiny tip is to always lay knives down with the cutting edge away from you and on the other side of where you may be feeling for it. The same edge that can cut a cucumber can and will cut your finger, if you aren’t careful.