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Winter Travel Safety Tips for the Visually Impaired

Picture of thermostat with ice on itBurr, Burr its cold outside! Slippery ice, piles of snow, and blustering winds can be a challenge to travel especially if you are a novice winter traveler. December, January and February can be the coldest months of the year. So what is a visually impaired person to do that wants to travel in the chilly weather? Well, if you are ready to travel, looking for an outdoor adventure or want to enhance your mobility skills read on for some useful travel tips.

1. First get mentally prepared. Traveling in the winter with a white cane is often more time consuming and more physically and mentally tiring. Depending on where you are going it can also be more dangerous than traveling in good weather. The cold can be distracting making it difficult to concentrate. So get prepared by learning as much about the location you are traveling to, ask questions, check weather reports and give yourself plenty of time to get to where you want to go.

2. Stay warm by looking carefully at your wardrobe. Be sure to dress in layers so you can remove as needed when traveling in and outdoors. Sweaters, turtlenecks, flannel shirts, wool blazers and corduroy jeans are great clothing to wear under a coat or heavy jacket that can keep you warm and comfortable.

3. Next look at your hands. Mittens and gloves can keep your hands warm but can be difficult to use with a white cane. Some people cut off the tips of their gloves so they can feel the cane better. Others cut the glove part off but keep the lining in place for coverage without losing sensitivity. Or you can adapt your mittens for holding a cane by cutting a hole at the tip, inserting the cane into the hole, and putting your hand in the mitten to hold the cane.

4. Wear good winter boots with soles that have good traction. The soles should not be too thick, or else you will lose sensitivity from the ground surface. Also, be sure the boots fit properly to avoid discomfort and foot blisters. Consider using traction devices that you put on the bottom of your boots that grip the snow/ice and make walking easier and less slippery. Get good socks for boot wearing. Not all socks are alike. If you are unsure talk to a department store clerk or sporting goods salesperson.

5. Keep your head covered. The majority of a person’s body heat is lost if the head is not covered. Choose close-fitting hats. Or cover your head with a scarf and wrap the loose ends around the neck; tucking into the coat collar. Avoid hats with ear flaps, ear muffins or hoods because they can block your ability to hear important sounds necessary for travel.

6. Be Visible to drivers. Darkness can come faster during winter months and you want toPicture of two people crossing a snow covered street. One of the people has a white cane. be sure that drivers can see you on the street and sidewalks. Use a reflector or reflecting tape on your coat or jacket. Travel with a flashlight. Also, wear bright colored clothing like reds, oranges and yellows to stand out against the snow.

7. Pay more attention to your white cane. Since you are traveling on snow and ice you need to pay closer attention to the surfaces you are walking on. You might need to tap your cane harder on the ground to get to the concrete under a pile of snow or to break up ice patches. Also, when approaching a curb, the snow may be piled up at the edge making it difficult to find that curb cut. So test the ground carefully beforehand.

8. Keep track. Be sure that you travel with a charged cell phone so you can call for help if needed. Also, use an accessible compass or a handy app on your Smartphone to keep track of your directions and location.

So are you ready to travel in the cold winter weather? Or do you just want to stay home by the fire with a hot cup of eggnog or apple cider? Have you traveled in cold weather before? If so, how did you handle it? Share your thoughts and comments with us.