Leader Dogs for the Blind Offers Excellent Orientation and Mobility Training

A few years ago, after several serious injuries, I knew it was time to seek white cane training. The wait for such services in my state can be 2-3 years long. I took to the internet to find alternatives and discovered the Accelerated Orientation and Mobility (AOM) program at Leader Dogs for the Blind. This week-long course was free, including airfare to the training center in Michigan. I knew this was a great opportunity so I applied. It was one of the most important steps I have taken to adjust to my vision loss.

I had no idea how much there was to learn about Orientation and Mobility and how much it would change my life for the better. I had a wonderful experience at Leader Dogs and want to share this resource with others who may be considering cane training. Here you will find an interview with Erica Ihrke who works at Leader Dog with the AOM program.

Male student learning to cross a street with his O+M instructor looking on

Client crossing street with instructor looking on

Audrey: Tell me a bit about yourself, credentials, and professional experience.

Erica: I am a Certified Orientation & Mobility Specialist (COMS) and the Manager of Extended Services at Leader Dogs for the Blind. I’ve been employed at Leader Dog for the past 16 years. I have a Bachelor of Science in Elementary Education from Central Michigan University and Master of Arts in Orientation & Mobility from Western Michigan University.

I have been a part of the team to incorporate GPS into the guide dog curriculum here at Leader Dog. Accelerated O&M Training has grown from an average of 26 clients per year to 75 last fiscal year. Summer Experience Camp was developed and O&M Interns are now a part of the Leader Dog culture. I have published two research articles with colleagues about GPS and its benefits for people who are blind or visually impaired. Additionally, I have presented at local, national & international conferences about the Leader Dog model used for O&M instruction and various topics related to accessible GPS.

Audrey: What do you find most rewarding about teaching O+M skills to clients?

Erica: The thing I love most about teaching O&M is actually teaching. Through the model that we use at Leader Dog we quickly see growth in skills. Clients that arrive on Sunday and depart the following Saturday are noticeably transformed with new skills for daily travel.

Audrey: Why are O+M and cane skills important? What do you see as the benefits to clients?

Erica: O&M skills are so important because if you know how to get somewhere and can do it safely then opportunities are made available. The benefits are endless… socialization, work, fitness and health, etc.

Audrey: Can you give a brief explanation of the training and highlight the skills needed to be a safe and independent traveler?

Erica: O&M training that occurs through Accelerated O&M at Leader Dog starts with arrivals on Sunday and departures on Saturday. One -on-one instruction with a COMS occurs Monday through Friday. On each day two to three lessons are completed in morning and afternoon sessions with short breaks in between each lesson to digest information. Generally one night travel lesson is accomplished after dark one evening. The skills taught to be a safe and independent traveler include using a white cane, utilizing a human guide,orientation skills and cardinal directions (i.e., north, south, east, west) to know where you are, where you want to go and how to get there, solving problems such as barriers, crowds, etc., crossing streets safely, re-orientating, shopping, soliciting assistance when needed, and more. Training takes place in a wide variety of environments, such as residential, semi-business, business, city and country settings.

Accelerated O&M training is provided free of charge at Leader Dogs for the Blind’s Rochester Hills, Michigan campus to those who are legally blind and at least 16 years of age, regardless of whether or not they plan to eventually train with a guide dog. Individualized, one-on-one instruction is provided during five days to meet goals agreed on by the client and COMS

Audrey: In your professional opinion, when is it time for O+M training? How do you know when you are ready for this as a visually impaired person?

Erica: It’s time for O&M training when you find yourself looking down to travel rather than keeping your head up, when you find that you are bumping into things that you didn’t see, or when you find you are limiting the places to which you go. O&M training is not a one-time instruction and then you are done. If you have had O&M training previously you should consider retraining if you are experiencing changes in your environment (a move or new traffic controls are put into place) or changes in your confidence or skill level.

Female student walking with her new white cane

Client walking with O+M instructor

Audrey: What do you see as the barriers and resistance clients have to O+M training?

Erica: One barrier to O&M training may be that the individual is waiting for services in his/her home area and that service is not provided in a frequent and on-going manner. A resistance to O&M training may be that someone does not want to carry a white cane. In this instance it is best that the individual is accepting of needing some assistance. A cane is an identifier and does create more awareness of a person’s visual impairment. Additionally it is a tool that can help identify obstacles and locate landmarks. But there is more to O&M than utilizing a white cane. More importantly it is knowing where you are, being able to plan where you want to go & knowing how to get there safely.

Audrey: What do clients say once they have experienced the skills to travel with a cane?

Erica: I’ve had several clients tell me that they didn’t think they needed more O&M training and they just came because we required it for them to go on to guide dog training with a Leader Dog. They have ALL also told me that they were extremely glad they came for training because they learned so much and now felt more comfortable with their travel abilities.

“[Because my O&M instructor is keeping me safe during training] I know that I am going to be able to make mistakes, it’s going to be OK, and I’m also going to be able to succeed and feel good about it,” said client Sheila Roussey.

“I just wanted to get more proficient to use the cane so that I could get around a lot better and not have to depend on people,” said client Susan Miller.

Thank you Erica for sharing this information. And thank you Leader Dogs for the Blind for your commitment and dedication to the mission of empowering people who are blind, visually impaired and deaf-blind with lifelong skills of independent and safe travel. To learn more and apply to the AOM program visit: http://www.leaderdog.org/clients/programs/accelerated-o-m-program                                                                        Happy Trails!!

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A Hiking We All Went

 

“Not all those who wander are lost”

                               J.R.R. Tolkien

I recently returned from a wonderful hiking trip. I was invited to join nine other women on their annual hiking adventure which they have taken for the last 16 years together. When I received the invitation, I hardly stopped to think about it. Count me in any time there is hiking, a chance to travel, and an opportunity to make new friends. I had never met these women and this would be my first “Hen Hike.”

The Hens-lunch at the waterfall

The Hens-lunch at the waterfall

 The Hens are made up of five visually impaired women and five sighted guides who have been friends for years. They are the kind of women who are “shakers and movers,” impressive in their vivacious spirits and thirst for adventure. Most of them have been involved with Ski For Light, Inc. (which I will write about in another post), where the sighted guides have developed their skill to guide the visually impaired and their selfless sense of service as volunteers. It is a group of physically fit and “aging gracefully” women who know how to have fun! They are world travelers, survivors of some of life’s most difficult challenges, professionals, wise, well-read, kind and gracious ladies. And it was such a privilege to be among them!

 We stayed at the Starlight Inn in northeast Pennsylvania. It is nestled in the country, overlooking a lake and surrounded by scenic trails. Sari the innkeeper, runs the quaint establishment with other family members. Wholesome and homemade meals are served in the cozy dining room where you feel as though you are part of the family. Every day, we were sent off on our hike with made-to-order sack lunches; meaty sandwiches on freshly baked bread, crisp apples and homemade cookies.

Fall colors on the trail-Betty and Susan

Fall colors on the trail-Betty and Susan

 

Each morning we hit the trails paired up with our guide for the day. The trees were spectacular in their fall “coats of many colors.” We walked the woodsy paths, side by side, at an easy pace and lost ourselves in companionable conversations. Breathing in the cool fresh air, we merrily trudged along in our broken-in boots,LLBean flannels and brandishing our walking canes. The sun was bright on our faces as we wandered the forest, leaving behind the worries of the world. The hikes were pleasant and we covered quite a bit of ground. We discovered several waterfalls and open meadows which were perfect lunch spots. It was refreshing and relaxing to enjoy the beautiful scenery with new friends who also appreciated nature.

 The hiking was only half the fun. Every day, we gathered in the “parlor” for Happy Hour, sipping wine and nibbling cheese and crackers. We shared stories of our lives and talked about the day’s highlights. Each day, I learned more about the Hens and grew to appreciate their colorful personalities, their vitality, and their fun-loving, adventurous spirits. After our lovely evening meals, we retired to the sun porch to play games. Some of the Hens pulled out their knitting as we played. We cackled and laughed until we cried and our sides hurt! And after much mirth and merriment, we trotted off to bed, full and satisfied with the day’s activities.

Hen Hike 2014

Hen Hike 2014

 This trip was such a joy. Everything went smoothly and the group meshed so well. I am grateful to these special women for welcoming me warmly and sharing their lives with me. I appreciated what the guides did for us VIPs (visually impaired person) and I was inspired by the VIPs. It is always reassuring to me to be with others who are visually impaired and managing life so well…it empowers me to keep on and encourages me to “see the possibilities” for new adventures. Happy Trails!

 

The Transportation Problem

Finding Rides When You Can’t Drive

Audrey on the side of the road with her thumb out and a sign that reads "Going My Way?"

Hitch Hiking is Always an Option!

One of the most difficult challenges for people with vision loss is finding reliable and affordable transportation. Whether you have had to give up your driver’s license or never had the chance to drive, it is an adjustment fraught with emotion and a sense of loss of independence. In this mobile, fast paced, car-loving society, who among us has not longed to get into a car and drive? Oh the joy of running errands on your own schedule or simply being able to spontaneously meet a friend for lunch. Those days are long gone for me; I lost my driver’s license 24 years ago due to vision loss. It was a real game-changer to be sure. However, life can be lived even after this happens. Life without a license to drive calls for innovation, networking, and advocating for yourself especially if you live in a community that does not offer public transportation.

Relocation For Greater Independence

At the time I lost my license, we lived in the cornfields of rural Indiana. My husband and I quickly realized this location was not going to work for us; we had three young children to raise and I had a career I wanted to pursue. So, we relocated to Georgia. We discovered Peachtree City which is in a rural county south of Atlanta. While it does not offer any forms of public transportation, it has 100 miles of golf cart paths and walking trails that connect the whole city. For years, I drove a golf cart to work, school, shopping, piano lessons, ball games and anywhere my busy life required. As my vision declined, my children were old enough to drive me and we survived a few more years on the golf cart paths. Then my kids got their drivers’ licenses and we bought a second car. They each took turns being my chauffer. Before long, they all left for college and I found myself looking for new transportation options. I got my first guide dog and began to walk to work and to the closest stores. But there are many places I cannot get to on foot and there are still no buses in town. So I had to get creative and assertive about finding rides.

Meeting The Challenge

I rode to work for a while with a neighbor who worked at the same place I did. Then her job changed and she moved. I then recruited college students from a local campus and several individuals as drivers for pay. We would discuss the price up front, which I based on mileage reimbursement plus an hourly wage. To find drivers or rides, I advertised my need for transportation in the neighborhood newsletter. Also, I contacted the local Lion’s Club to explore options with their volunteers. Often, I can get errands done with friends who do not accept payment and I buy their lunch in return. When my children were young, I arranged carpools and rides for them in exchange for my babysitting services. It is important to plan your rides in advance, communicate clearly with your drivers, and organize your outings to make the most of the trip.

Tips on Getting Around

Here are a few more tips to address the transportation dilemma:

  1. Some people keep their vehicle and hire a personal driver. You may want to advertise locally, interview candidates carefully, do a background check, ask about their driving record, negotiate fees, and secure appropriate insurance coverage. This option involves other expenses such as car maintenance, registration and tags, insurance, and gas.
  2. If relocation is an option, consider areas where there is public transportation; fixed route buses, paratransit, and public transit. Look up the Walk Score (www.walkscore.com) of areas that may interest you to find the “walkability” of the community. Consult a realtor about the rising number of “live- work-play” communities (http://plannersweb.com/2013/09/a-place-to-live-work-and-play/)   that offer the conveniences of city life with less stress, decreased need for driving, and a healthier walking lifestyle.
  3. Some communities offer a “voucher transportation program” through the senior services or community services center. These programs are subsidized by federal and local agencies to provide transportation for seniors and disabled adults. The rider buys a book of vouchers at a low cost and exchanges them with a certified driver at the time of service. The driver then cashes in the vouchers for a subsidized amount.
  4. Some local churches or community groups may have “volunteer” transportation programs that provide rides free of charge to qualified people.
  5. Local taxi companies may be willing to negotiate discounts for disabled passengers who frequently use their services.
  6. There are new “rideshare” services cropping up such as Uber (www.uber.com) and Lyft (www.lyft.com) in most major cities nationally. These services offer rides on demand within minutes in private vehicles, as taxi alternatives. They have mobile apps used to request the ride and handle fees electronically.
  7. Expect to pay for rides and budget accordingly. If you owned a car and drove, you would have a myriad of expenses to maintain your own transportation.

Accessible and affordable transportation is in short supply in many communities. Federal and local governments struggle to maintain programs and find resources to meet the needs of low income, senior, and disabled citizens. Shortfalls in funding have resulted in cutbacks in services and routes, and even the folding of paratransit programs in some communities. People need rides to maintain employment, good health and quality of life, and engagement in the community. It is imperative for the visually impaired community to be pro-active in managing their transportation needs. Lack of transportation can lead to isolation, unemployment, loss of independence and even depression. We must take charge, self-advocate and be creative when it comes to addressing this area of our life.

A Farm Family Reunion

The dairy herd on Demmitt Dairy Farm

The dairy herd on Demmitt Dairy Farm

Our family is flung far and wide. From Arizona, Colorado, Georgia, Texas, and Virginia we came. Thirty two of us from four generations, gathered for a wedding recently on the family farm in Ohio. It was a breezy, sunny Midwest weekend as we congregated at Grandma’s house, filling the rooms, beds and every available chair. She had been in the kitchen for days before our arrival baking homemade cinnamon rolls, brownies and cookies, canning pickles and beets, picking all manner of produce in the garden, and chopping veggies for casseroles and salads. Every meal was a veritable feast of organic, fresh, wholesome farm fare. Sweet corn was in season and came freshly picked from the neighbor’s farm market. Grandma’s zucchini was featured in a casserole and zucchini bread. We had lettuce, tomatoes, onions and cucumbers fresh from the garden and hamburgers from locally raised beef. The cheese came from a near-by Amish farm and the milk came from our own family dairy. Down on the farm, it is all about faith, family, food and fun!

This family farm has been tilled for three generations. Originally a cattle and beef operation, it is now an organic dairy farm owned by one of five brothers who grew up on this land. He in turn, has five children who help with daily chores and the business of farming. They grow hay, wheat, corn, soy, and spelt right now, though the crops rotate. Twice a day, they milk 80 dairy cows which produce about 450 gallons of organic milk per day. The herd consists of Holstein, Jersey and Brown Swiss cattle. The rich milk makes delicious ice cream, which we always hand crank in White Mountain Ice Cream makers for every family event. Grandma has perfected the recipe and everyone else takes turns cranking it into the heavenly frozen treat. We use a favorite chocolate-walnut recipe that has been handed down for generations called Mopeka. The eggs and walnuts often came from the farm along with the milk. Great Grandpa used to peddle Mike-sell’s potato chips as a young man and so these chips are always served with the Mopeka. It is one of many family traditions observed by this tribe.

We have made this pilgrimage every summer since our children were little. The now grown grandkids love to tell “remember when” stories from all the memories they have made with their cousins on Grandma’s farm. Some years Grandma had the grandkids by themselves. They learned to cook, sew, garden, milk cows, feed calves, gather eggs, bale hay, make hay forts, and round up the cows for milking on four-wheelers. Grandma always took them to Vacation Bible School and the county fair where she was a food judge and their daddy had entered livestock as a child in 4-H club. With grubby, happy faces they ran in the fields, climbed trees, and played in the barns all day long, working up voracious appetites. We ate heartily at Grandma’s table; always dressed in colorful, home-made tablecloths and laden with the season’s harvest. This year, a wedding brought us together to catch up, reminisce, and celebrate the blessings of family. On the farm, my children have learned about love, faithfulness, respect for the land and hard-work.

The wedding of our niece was lovely. She was married in a small country church attended by our family for generations. My husband’s grandparents were married there and are now buried in the cemetery on the grounds. The bride’s uncle, a pastor for 35 years, conducted the ceremony. Her grandparents, aunt and uncle sang in the wedding and cousins served as photographers. The happy couple left the quaint church in a sleek, white limousine sipping champagne; headed to the reception venue in the city; the 29th floor of the Racquet Club and a world away. It was a grand party with many friends and extended family members on the guest list. There were elegant hors d’oeuvres, another lovely meal, libations, music and dancing. The twenty-something cousins surprised us all with their lively dance moves while the older crowd marveled at their energy. Photos captured the moments as memories were made.

The weekend came to a close after attending church and eating one last meal together. It was a joint effort with many hands in the kitchen. The meal was tasty but the highlight was the dessert; Mopeka ice cream hand cranked that morning. Everyone excitedly awaited the creamy treat as it was reverently dipped out of the old wooden bucket. And the Mike-sell’s chips were passed at the same time. We were filled to the brim with fresh air, fresh food, Grandma’s love, and farm fun. After the cars were packed and the plates cleared away, we began our good-byes with hugs all around. We realize this is a special place; sacred ground. We are grateful for the legacy and heritage of farm life and for a family that lives ‘in unity” as Uncle Greg preached at church that day. We always leave the farm with some goodies from Grandma. This trip, it was canned pickles-a little bit of love and the farm in a jar.

Organic Dairy Sign

Organic Dairy Sign

Taking Turns Cranking Ice Cream

Taking Turns Cranking Ice Cream

 

 

 

The White Cane: A Useful Tool

There comes a time when it just makes sense to use a white cane when you are losing your vision. Most of us resist this rite of passage, fearing the stigmas, myths, and images associated with the “dreaded white cane.” In my case, something awful had to happen to wake me up to the reality that I was no longer a safe traveler. I had many falls and sprained ankles which I attributed to clumsiness. As my vision worsened, the falls became more frequent and I was forced to admit it was not just clumsiness. While at work, I took a series of falls which raised concerns with my employer. Then I fell at home and ended up having ankle reconstruction surgery. I knew it was time to consider using a cane.

I called various vision rehabilitation services to inquire how to get training. They pointed me to the state vocational rehabilitation agency where I applied for services, to include what is called Orientation and Mobility (O+M) training. Unfortunately, in my state there is a long waiting list and a shortage of funds to serve the disabled. After waiting a year with no word from the state agency, I tried to find private instructors to teach me O+M and was told there were none available and it would be cost prohibitive. So, I turned to the internet and found the Accelerated Orientation and Mobility (AOM) program offered by Leader Dogs for the Blind (LDB). This is a seven day, one-on-one, intensive course taught by certified O+M specialists at the training center in Rochester Hills, Michigan. The cost to the client: FREE.

I always thought I would eventually get a guide dog and when I researched this option I learned good O+M skills were a prerequisite to using a dog for mobility. However, the AOM program is for anyone who wants to learn to use a white cane, whether or not there is interest in using a guide dog in the future. With great anticipation and a bit of trepidation, I applied for the AOM program. LDB walked me through the process, made all the travel arrangements, and paid all the expenses. All I had to do was show up at the airport and be ready to learn. The flight to Michigan was easy with assistance from the airline escort service. When I arrived in Michigan, LDB staff was there to greet me.

My week at LDB was an incredible experience. The accommodations were very comfortable and visually impaired friendly. The staff was welcoming and professional. On the first morning, I was fitted with my new cane and the teaching began. It felt awkward in my hands, but I was eager to learn. The days’ lessons built on each other as my skills developed. There is so much more to Orientation and Mobility than I ever imagined. It is not just about thwacking a cane around. It involves cane techniques such as the grip, the swing, and two-point touch. There is shore-lining, stairs, and street crossings to master. I was struck with the difference the cane made immediately. I was able to walk with my head up and with a normal gait as I learned to use the information my cane gave me. No more staring at the ground and shuffling like a grandma! It felt wonderful to stand tall and take in the surrounding environment. I learned to plan a route, use environmental cues to orient myself, and get from point A to point B safely. It was so exhilarating to realize I could once again get myself to where I wanted to go. I will be forever grateful for the gift of this training from Leader Dogs for the Blind as it was the beginning of regaining my independence.

I like how the cane identifies me as visually impaired so I do not have to explain this. At first, I thought it would make me appear “disabled”, but on the contrary, I think I appear more “able”, traveling on my own with confidence. And so, I embraced my cane. Before long, instead of feeling awkward with it, I felt awkward without it. If your cane is stashed away in a closet, aging like fine wine, I encourage you to get it out and use it. If you have been putting off learning to use a white cane, consider the AOM program at LDB as a great place to start. Don’t wait until a serious injury happens. In the end, I learned the white cane is simply a useful mobility tool that helps keep me safe and independent.

Wise Old Trees

A sign which reads "Cathedral Grove-enter quietly"

Muir Woods, a sacred place

As a cellular and developmental biology major, I was fascinated by the diversity of life on this planet Earth. My fascination began in childhood as I roamed the fields and played in the creeks on our farm in Michigan. I loved to collect leaves and bugs, climb trees, watch ants, catch frogs and study flowers. I spent hours outdoors, communing with nature and it was always a spiritual experience for me. I am in awe of the variety of shapes and colors; species and phyla found in the plant and animal kingdoms. And beyond that, the fierce determination to survive and the ability to adapt are impressive. Take the majestic sequoias in Yosemite and their cousins the coastal redwoods in Muir Woods National Monument, where these ancient trees are protected.

It was a privilege to visit these special places. Even with my diminished vision, I was able to sense the grandeur as I entered Mariposa Grove and Cathedral Grove. I walked among trees that were as old as 2000 years, as tall as 379 feet, and as wide as 40 feet. Talk about behemoths! I felt very small and inconsequential; my life but a momentary breath in comparison. The forest’s gauzy shafts of light, swirls of purple shadows, melodious songs of birds, earthy herbal fragrances, and gurgling sounds of streams all intermingled to create an ethereal effect. Indeed, this is a natural cathedral, serene and solemn, commanding a hushed respect. These redwoods have stood for eons of time, against the forces of natural disasters, man and change. Sadly, they are the lone survivors of their species, now protected from the chaos and clamor of the outside world. I gratefully received the gifts of peace and tranquility they offered. And I came away with a few lessons from these wise old trees.

Ranger Lucy in uniform standing with me and my guide dog

Ranger Lucy, Muir Woods

Ranger Lucy from the Muir Woods park service gave a tree talk to visitors. She had 5 lessons we can learn from the redwoods:

  1. Stand Tall and Proud– redwoods are the tallest living thing on earth. They have survived fires, droughts and other hardships. They bear scars and cracks which testify to their struggle to live. Wear your scars of survivorship proudly and stand with dignity.
  2. Live in a “Cool” Place-redwoods grow best in the cool temperatures of the fog belt in California. They flourish in this moist environment. Find your special place in the world where you can thrive.
  3. Support Your Community-redwoods have a disproportionately shallow root system for their size. Their roots extend widely to tangle with other near-by trees in order to anchor themselves securely. Reach out to your community to establish connections with others.
  4. Grow a Thick Skin-redwoods have very thick, spongy and fibrous bark, rich in tannic acid which makes it resistant to fire, insects, and fungi. Allow your skin to thicken so you can resist the assaults of life.
  5. Surround Yourself with Family-redwoods have the ability to reproduce by sprouting burls and forming tightly grouped “family circles,” giving them a survival advantage. Stay close to family so they can fortify and strengthen you.

I am always looking for what nature can teach me. We live in such an exquisitely designed and spectacularly intelligent world. When we stop to observe and listen, we learn great secrets and truths. These sacred experiences teach us to respect and appreciate the beauty and gifts of the Earth.

A group of trees forming a family circle

Cathedral Grove, a family circle of redwoods

            

The clearest way into the Universe is through a forest wilderness.

John Muir

 

Traveling Blind: A Sensory Experience

 

Yosemite National Park-El Capitan

Yosemite National Park-El Capitan

The world is a book, and those who do not travel read only a page.

Saint Augustine

My husband and I just returned from a trip to California. We visited Yosemite National Park, San Francisco, Muir Woods, Carmel, and Sonoma Valley. He is an excellent vacation planner and travel companion! This was one of my favorite trips with such a variety of experiences and adventures: hiking among the giant Sequoia, picnicking and wine-tasting in lush wine country, riding the rickety trolley car, shopping in the “hippie” district in the city, lunching on dim sum in colorful China Town, sipping tea in the peaceful Japanese gardens, meandering in the serenity of Cathedral Grove among the regal Redwoods, walking the dog-friendly beaches with my guide dog Sophie, breathing in the fresh, crisp air on the Coastal Trail, feasting on local seafood and wines…ahhh…I am still basking in the glow of the sweet sensory memories of it all!                                                                                                                        

Matanzas Creek Winery-Sonoma Valley

Matanzas Creek Winery-Sonoma Valley

                                                         

A couple and guide dog at the base of a giant Sequoia tree

The Mighty Sequoia Tree

 

Where ever you go, go with all your heart.

Confucius

As I was packing, I marveled at how little I needed in my suitcase. A mere 46 lbs. of worldly trappings and accoutrements to survive a twelve day trip was all I required. I have learned to keep it simple. That way, there is less to organize, keep track of, and haul around! I love this sense of freedom from material things and it creates room in my soul to take in the new experiences. It is enlightening to consider what we can live without and how freeing it can be to shed extra baggage.

Though we travel the world over to find the beautiful, we must carry it with us or we find it not.

Ralph Waldo Emerson

In the past when I have traveled as a visually impaired person, I often experienced overwhelming fatigue, anxiety, and even irritability while trying to adjust to new surroundings. This would cause stress  which took away from the ability to enjoy the adventure. This trip was different somehow. I have learned to relax and accept my limitations. I try to pace myself, yet challenge myself at the same time so as not to miss a worthwhile attraction. For instance, we chose to take a two-mile “moderate” hike to Glacier Point in Yosemite. It took us a few hours to painstakingly navigate a rocky course to reach a spectacular summit view. My guide dog was an amazing and attentive partner as she moved me through the obstacles of rocks, logs, and roots. My husband patiently gave me verbal instructions and a steady arm when needed. It took teamwork and concentration as the three of us plugged along the path. The payoff was arriving at the highest point in Yosemite, surrounded by unmatched grandeur; sparkling granite cliffs, terraced waterfalls, and a feeling of infinite openness and space. It was exhilarating and energizing! And the satisfaction of accomplishment spurred me onward. As visually impaired people, we sometimes have to find a different way to do things and take our time-but what joy there is in success and the experience.   

Ft. Funston Beach

Ft. Funston Beach

Certainly, travel is more than the seeing of sights; it is a change that goes on, deep and permanent, in the ideas of living.

Mary Ritter Beard

From the moment we arrived in California, I sensed the differences. The air was cool and crisp with a woodsy herbal scent. The birds sang different songs. Trees have unique silhouettes and shades of color. The sky was bigger and bluer than in Georgia. Flowers seem to be more bold and varied. There are ever-present views and briny smells of the ocean. Foods and people from all parts of the world abound. Travel is about appreciating the differences and variety which the world has to offer. I may not “see” all the sights, but I can employ all of my senses to enrich my experience and celebrate the joys of travel. It is about being there and “being present.”

Pleasure is the flower that passes; remembrance, the lasting perfume.

Jean de Boufflers

A special benefit of this trip was the opportunity to truly enjoy the company of my husband. With the distractions of home, work, and other responsibilities left behind, we were able to tune in to each other fully and refresh ourselves together. Long walks and talks on beautiful beaches can rejuvenate the mind, body and soul. I discovered that each day I could not wait to get up and going, as it meant more time with Kevin. His undivided attention was luxurious and the lazy days together felt extravagant. I wanted to make the most of “him and me” time. So travel is also about the joy of being with your loved ones. All the adventures, sights and experiences are richer when shared and the memories sweeter when made together.