Walking while blind

I’ve had the gift of walking hundreds of miles with my wife this year. I hope you will find the story a metaphor for processing a year that has been unlike any other in our lives. The story is a quick read, with a little food for thought. Comments and sharing are always welcome.

In this post:

Story: Walking while blind

One of the things that attracted us to living in downtown Milwaukee was the ease of access to a wide variety of people and organizations. I can get to most places by walking or public transportation. The Covid-19 pandemic has significantly limited my options to travel independently. I am aware that my travel skills are getting rusty.

Cane travel requires an awareness of both geography and details of the most immediate surroundings. It requires alternating attention between the soundscape, tactile feedback through the white cane, and geographic features of the area. When done well it is a confidence building experience, when not, not so much.

My wife and I generally walk three to four miles each day. The location of our condominium allows us access to a wide variety of spaces and places. The lakefront is to our east, the arena district is to our west, walking south takes us to the heart of Milwaukee’s downtown, and going north takes us through a variety of residential neighborhoods.

Helen and I walk hand-in-hand. Many people have no idea that I am blind. I have become so comfortable with Helen that I sometimes lose track of where we are. We will periodically check in on our location, but our time together is often more important than where we are at any given moment.

As we start to see the light at the end of this pandemic tunnel, I know I will want to sharpen my independent travel skills. Pandemic fatigue has me longing to spend time in coffee shops, meeting with people or writing; to attend activities in the community; to be face-to-face with the virtual communities that I have been a part of this past year. To do this, I will need to refamiliarize myself with the contours of walkways, the landmarks that indicate entryways or access points to public transportation, to the sounds of intersections and building interiors. This takes a commitment to a way of interacting with the world. Nothing less, but nothing more.

Lessons learned:

“If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go with others.”

The message of this African proverb is that a group provides a much greater diversity of skills, experiences, and resources than an individual could gather on their own. For a blind person, I read the proverb as ‘if you want to go fast go with a close companion…’ My attention is drawn to what is gained and lost along the continuum of going alone or with a group. The fact that I can go fastest with a close companion places me along this continuum but also as an observer of the continuum.

My daughter, Rachel, and I can navigate busy places very quickly. Our travels inspired me to parody the title of Nate Silver’s book “The Signal and the Noise” to reflect the two important “signals” for going fast while blind “gravity and hard thing,” everything else is just noise. When we move quickly through a complex space, we have an unspoken agreement that much of what we pass qualifies as noise. It is the trade-off we make for the opportunity to go fast.

In some ways, much of what we have experienced in 2020 is metaphoric of walking while blind. The Covid-19 pandemic has touched everyone. We have faced choices in processing systemic disenfranchisement of individuals and groups. The 2020 elections could be seen as a referendum on what a functioning democracy looks like. How we make meaning of these things is dependent on how we sort the signals from the noise. In all cases, we have made choices regarding who we will travel with and how far we are willing to go.

Food for thought

We all are faced with the challenge of sorting out signal from noise. The choices we make regarding who we travel with and where we are going impact our options for sorting signal from noise.

  • What information comes from direct experience?
  • What are your sources of data – unedited facts and figures”
  • What are your sources (newspapers, radio, TV, etc.) for summarizing facts and figures?
  • What are your sources of commentary on what is going on around you?
  • How do you validate your own interpretation of facts and figures?
  • Who relies on you to interpret what is going on around you?
  • With whom, literally or figuratively, do you hold hands with as you blindly navigate unknown spaces?

References

  • Silver, Nate. 2012. The Signal and the Noise: Why So Many Predictions Fail-but Some Don’t. Penguin Group.

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Dan Lococo, PhD
, Barrier Knocker Downer
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