On The Go: Traveling With A Visual Impairment

Traveling can be a daunting experience for anyone of any age or ability. If you are blind or have low vision travel can incur a different set of issues than for those who are sighted. Luckily, in today’s technological world it is now easier than ever for most everyone to travel more confidently.

The Basics

AARP shares a short overview of the basics needed when traveling with a visual impairment. The first thing mentioned is the possibility of needing documentation from an eye provider if your issue is not immediately noticeable. This will help ensure that you’re provided the assistance that you may need. It is also recommended to share your itinerary with someone you trust either a loved one back home and/or someone whom you’ll be traveling to see. If this is your first time traveling alone it may be useful to consult with an orientation mobility specialist to help you become a more confident less stressed traveler. It is also important to remain flexible in your plans which is true of anyone traveling.

If traveling by air it’s important to call ahead. All airports should have a meet-and-assist program to help travelers with anything from check-in to boarding and baggage claim. By law you need to give airports at least 48 hours’ notice for them to be able to guarantee the services you need. Tag your luggage in such a way that it helps differentiate it from all the others. Using brightly colored tape around the handle is one way to make it easier at baggage claim. Lastly don’t be afraid to speak up and ask for assistance as needed.

If traveling by bus, ask customer service for help navigating the station. Multi-level bus stations often have steep escalators or stairs. If you prefer using an elevator, make sure to point this out to whomever you have assisting you.  Talk to the driver as you load the bus to let him/her know that you’re visually impaired and will need to be told when you reach your stop. If you’re catching a transfer bus you will also need to be instructed where to find the connecting bus.

If traveling by train, ask customer service for help. Train stations can be chaotic, and tracks are often not announced until a few minutes before departure times. Choose a seat by a door so you won’t have to climb over people when you reach your stop. Familiarize yourself with the name of the stop before yours so that you will be ready to exit once you’ve reached your destination.

Using GPS Technology Geared Towards the Visually Impaired

A review for the Victor Reader Trek Talking GPS (currently on sale at ila at time of writing) provided by the American Foundation for the Blind explains what is capable with this technology. To get started with the GPS feature of the Victor Reader Trek, the unit needs to recognize where you are. When the online button is pressed, the Trek announces, “Searching for satellites.”

It begins operation in pedestrian mode. You can walk a route and have the Trek record it for later, identifying intersections, landmarks, and points of interest along the way. You can map a route from where you are standing to where you are going, and you can record in your own voice names for landmarks you wish to find again. You can switch to vehicle mode when you need information when traveling by car, bus, or train.

The review concludes with two pros of using the Trek over other GPS based devices. First, the Trek is dedicated to downloading, streaming, and playing information relevant to reading and wayfinding. You won’t get interrupted by phone call, text message, or social media alerts. Secondly, not all blind and visually impaired people have warmed to smartphone touchscreens. There is a definite comfort factor to tangible buttons you can press.

Other Devices and Resources to Assist in Travel

Two other devices, on sale this week, can also be utilized with helping visually impaired persons on the go. The Sunu Mobility Device is a wrist-worn smart watch which uses echolocation to provide vibration feedback regarding the user’s surroundings and other information. Used in conjunction with a guide dog or white cane, it can improve spatial awareness and provide information on obstacles in a user’s path that are above ground level up to 16 feet away. This smart band augments your personal awareness, and reduces accidents to the body, chest, arms and head.

The BuzzClip Mobility Guide – 2nd Generation is the third highlighted device on sale this week. It is a wonderfully small and helpful tool for assisting those who are Blind or have very low vision and utilize a mobility cane or a guide dog. Its hinged clip easily clips to the user’s clothing and vibrates with increasing intensity as an object appears within detection range of the BuzzClip.

Online resources are numerous and can be a tremendous help to anyone traveling. Upgraded Points provides links to organizations geared towards everything from guides and tips to understanding your rights as a traveler with a vision impairment.

To check out what else ila has to offer visit the website at individual living aids, LLC.