A Path of Discovery
by Ann Chiappetta
Traveling can be a great way to increase one’s independence. It keeps us active, socially engaged, and will challenge and correct some of those irrational fears. Shifting one’s perspective is beneficial to your character and could widen self-limiting assumptions. It is even more critical, in my opinion to challenge these assumptions if you are a person with a disability.
I was diagnosed with a progressive retinal disorder and it progressed slowly, reducing my usable vision until I could no longer detect colors, faces, and details. Many years ago, when I first became blind, I went out on my own only when it involved my children’s needs or something important like a medical appointment. I didn’t travel to unfamiliar locations without another adult. I just could not get past the anxiety of traveling alone. I did not have the skills and it made me fearful. I missed out on worthwhile experiences due to the fear of the unknown.
I knew developing good travel skills and being able to rely upon my white cane with confidence was paramount to returning to work and gaining independence. I just needed practice.
Part of building reliable traveling skills as a blind person is to plan a simple route and make it happen, building upon each success. One of the first complicated traveling challenges I planned independently was attending a scholarship dinner at a State conference. I was able to independently navigate the airport and the hotel, and this resulted in proving to myself that I could take back my independence.
Building self-reliance takes time, planning, patience and practice. Throughout the years of declining vision, I would check in with the mobility professionals and work on travel skills, job skills, cooking skills, and other tasks I felt needed tweaking. I learned, with the assistance of vision loss professionals, how to prepare for and anticipate my needs by learning from others. Mobility instructors taught me valuable skills and techniques to find doors, check-in counters, navigate train platforms and escalators, revolving doors, and moving sidewalks. I received great advice and support from other blind friends and I cannot stress enough how important it is to belong to a positive and active group of people who are blind. Only someone who also walks your path of blindness can empathize and validate the experience.
The next trip was a family trip to Florida including a one-day trip to a National Blindness conference. This conference was intimidating at first but I somehow managed not to get lost or trip folks with my cane. The added bonus was that my family came with me and was also exposed to hundreds of blind people. My husband later remarked that he was intimidated by “all those people swinging those canes.” I thought about his comment and realized he, too, felt a bit intimidated by the conference. He did benefit, however, from watching me interact with other blind people. He learned to resist the need to over-help and eventually understand how I would go about my life without being able to use my vision.
Setting a goal like learning a route, whether it is to a store or to a conference, boosts confidence and can provide a sense of well-being and accomplishment. Building the skill set could be accomplished in one outing or practiced more than once, the key is to begin with a simple route and expand upon it. A two-block trip will grow into a mile walk with street crossings if done with a mindful attitude and reliable resources. Smart phone technology and GPS apps also assist in navigation. A trip journal would assist with planning trips, taking notes on what to avoid, and other considerations to help you be a confident and safe traveler. Don’t let a disability leave you behind and step out and challenge your comfort zone.
About the Author
Ann Chiappetta M.S. is an author and poet, making meaningful connections with others through writing. Ann’s nonfiction essays have been printed in Dialogue magazine, among others. Her poems are often featured in Poesis, The Pangolin Review, and Magnets and Ladders. Her poetry is also included in Breath and Shadow’s 2016 debut anthology, Dozen: The Best of Breath and Shadow. Her books—a poetry collection Upwelling: Poems, a memoir Follow Your Dog a Story of Love and Trust, Words of Life: Poems and Essays, and a short story collection A String of Stories From the Heart to the Future—are available in both e book and print formats from Amazon. Visit her site http://www.annchiappetta.com/ to learn more about her work.