Flashback Friday: Country Work

What a week it has been! I can’t wait to share with you some great puppy pictures and lessons learned on this amazing vacation. 

Original Post Date: 6/9/2009

Despite our Stormy delay, we made it to the country!

Well, by The Seeing Eye’s definition, “country” is any street without sidewalks. There are several suburban residential regions around MOrristown where TSE trainers take dog and handler teams to practice how to safely travel by road. One of the specific dangers of doing this is that drivers don’t expect to see pedestrians along these kinds of roads, so extra precautions must be taken to avoid tragedies.

I currently live in one such suburban residential area with no sidewalks. There are sidewalks within two or three blocks of my location, but I’m in a tiny little sidewalk desert. According to the city’s Sidewalk expansion plan, however, my desert ought to be filled in within the not-so-distant future, which I am very excited about! Because I live next to a major thoroughfare…with no sidewalk, this expansion will put me within safe walking distance of a bus stop. Though our bus system is currently pretty inefficient, it’s scheduled for consistent upgrades and expansions, too. Independence creeps forward by inches sometimes, but as I shared in my Last post, anticipation isn’t poisonous, and is well worth savoring.

Safety Without Sidewalks

Seeing Eye dogs are always trained to walk to the far left of any path they take. Doing this allows them to avoid running their handlers into obstacles on the right side, while they themselves serve as a buffer for left-side obstacles.

Greta has taken this job a little too Seriously, but we’re working on it.

When working without sidewalks, the dogs walk along the left-hand curve, moving toward oncoming traffic. In addition to having the above benefit, this increases pedestrian visibility to drivers. It also means the human, which is taller and easier to see, is closer to the flow of traffic than the shorter, less visible dog.

Intersections are handled slightly differently than normal, however. Normally, when a dog reaches an intersection, it stops at the curb cut to indicate the team’s location. The handler can then command the dog to turn right or left, or go forward, depending on their assessment of safety and whichever direction they need to continue traveling. But without sidewalks, there are no curb-cuts.

I thought about asking Galadriel to draw some illustrations of the complex instructions I’m about to give. But then…I learned them without being able to see them. I learned them verbally. You can, too! Let’s challenge my skills of description and your imagination. Can you really look on the dark side?

You and Juno are traveling north on Blue Street, which runs exactly North-South. You approach an intersection with Red Street, which runs East-West, exactly perpendicular to Blue Street. You have three options: turn left to travel West on Red Street, go straight to continue North on Blue Street, or turn right to travel East on Red Street.

West on Red: Making a Left-Hand Turn

This is the easiest one. Simply wait until you assess that it is safe to do so, then command Juno “left” and turn left at the intersection. You are now traveling West on Red Street.

: Continuing Past a Cross-StreetNorth on Blue Street

This is the direction you are currently traveling, but you’ve encountered an intersection where Red Street crosses Blue Street. You must cross Red Street safely in order to continue traveling North. However, streets tend to widen at intersections to accommodate cars’ turning radii. It would be best to spend as little time in the street as possible, so you do not just simply walk straight across the intersection.

Instead, you turn left, that is West, onto Red street. You travel West for about twenty feet, then stop. Command Juno “right,” so you now face North across Red street. When it’s safe, command Juno “Forward” to cross Red Street. Now command her “Right” so you can reverse your direction back to the intersection. You are now oriented 90 degrees from your original direction. Blue Street is crossing North-South in front of you, and you are facing East on Red Street.

You may safely turn left onto Blue Street and continue traveling north, making the same left-turn maneuver you did in the previous example.

East on Red Street: Making a right-Hand Tunr

This is the tricky one. You are, as you recall from the beginning, facing North on Blue street, and Red Street crosses going East-West. East, your desired direction, is 90 degrees to your right. In order to reach the left (north) curb of Red Street going East, you will have to cross two streets, not just one.

You’re about to execute a clover-leaf pattern, which is really just adding one more street crossing to our previous maneuver. It sounds a lot more complicated than it is.

As in the first example, turn left to travel West on Red Street. As in Example 2, cross Red Street at its narrower point so you’re on the north side of the street. Turn left onto Blue sTreet. Now, instead of continuing north on Blue Street, you find its narrower point and cross. Turn right, and now you are facing South, 180 degrees from your original direction.

East on Red Street is now to your left. Simply turn left, and continue on your way.

Did you get lost in all the rights and lefts and cardinal directions? That’s ok. Remember, you’ll have Google Maps or Siri in your ear – because you’re blind, and so you’re listening to your directions – to help you maintain your orientation. This is why blind people often receive several weeks of Orientation and Mobility Skills (O&M) training, though. Being able to navigate without eyes is a challenge. A surmountable one, and one that can quickly become routine. But it is a challenge to learn.

This is a prime example of one of my favorite axioms, “being blind takes longer.” There are frequently extra steps involved in what would normally be a simple task, like crossing a street.

Today your favorite blindfluencer asks you to reflect on the last time you got lost. How did you find your way? Share your story in the comments.

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