Future Reflections Summer/Fall 2005
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by Kasondra L. Payne
Reprinted from the Spring 2003, issue of the Minnesota Bulletin, a publication of the National Federation of the Blind of Minnesota.
Editor’s Note: Is there a trick or knack to giving good directions to a blind person? Maybe, but that’s a topic for another issue. This article is about how blind people learn to give good directions to others. As you read it, I challenge you to ask yourself these questions: What am I doing to help my blind child (or student) learn how to give good directions to other people--especially people who are driving him or her someplace? Can my child give directions to and from his or her house--especially from frequently traveled places like school; mom’s place or dad’s place; church, synagogue, or mosque; grandma’s house; a nearby convenience store, etc.? Unlike other skills for which it is hard to find the time to practice, this is an easy one to incorporate into the daily routine: every time you get into the car you can practice it. And it’s easy to turn it into a fun game which all of your kids can play and enjoy. Here, now, is Kasondra to tell you how she learned and refined her skill in “Giving Directions:”
“Kasondra, how do you know what direction you are going?” My friend Jenny always has some new question about blindness for me, but this one startled me. We were socializing with several other women before a church meeting, and I had just given our friend, Sheila, directions to a store across town. Sheila had heard me give directions before, and she knew that I am usually very accurate.
Shawn and Kasondra Payne
I explained, “I have many techniques I use. For example, on a sunny day, I use the position of the sun as a cue to tell me what direction I am walking in. I also use landmarks, and I pay attention to where buses are going. I was trained in these skills when I went through Blindness: Learning In New Dimensions (BLIND), Inc.”
Another friend, Ann, pressed me further. “How do you know the freeways?”
“Well, I just had to learn where the freeways go and how to get from one to another.” I replied. “Did you know that I directed Shawn around town when he moved here before we got married?”
Ann seemed a little surprised, but she listened as I explained the techniques I used to teach my sighted husband, Shawn, where things are in the Twin Cities.
Shawn came from a small town in Idaho where everything is pretty close together. He had lived in a big city before, but Minneapolis, Minnesota, was a whole new ball of wax. Minneapolis and St. Paul are two fairly good-sized cities situated just across the river from each other. That wasn’t difficult for Shawn, but the freeway system in Minnesota can get quite confusing. There are so many freeways, and they often change direction. Shawn had a map, but he couldn’t read it while he was driving. That’s why he relied on me to give him accurate directions.
Shawn never thought it was weird to be getting directions from a blind person. He expected me to know where I was going and how to get there. I had given directions to sighted people before, but most of them were at least familiar with the area. Shawn had never been to Minnesota, and he had no clue where he was going. I promised him that I would teach him how to get around town. This turned out to be a learning experience for both of us.
The first night Shawn was in town we planned to go to a restaurant near my home. I was used to getting there by bus, and I didn’t always pay attention when I went there by car. I knew where the restaurant was, but I was sketchy on some of the details. I asked Shawn to read the street signs to me, so I could figure out where we were. It was a lot like a bus driver calling stops and transfer points. We got a little lost, but we eventually found the restaurant. I realized that some of the same techniques I used when traveling by bus also worked in a car.
Shawn had a month to learn how to get around town. I was going out of town for a week, and he needed to know where things were--like church, his new job, and shopping areas. This wasn’t too difficult, but I wanted him to feel confident about where he was going. We drove around finding the best routes to all these places. Of course, we got lost, but we always found our way out. I wasn’t perfect either. Sometimes I told him to make a wrong turn, but we always got ourselves out of it. Sometimes I forgot that cars couldn’t always go where buses go, or that some streets are one-way only. We ended up in a few bus lanes and turned around on a few deadend roads, but we always made it out. This helped me learn how to give better directions, and Shawn learned everything he needed to know to get around while I was gone.
This story may seem backwards, but it is true. Usually, sighted people are giving us the directions, and they don’t often expect us to know where we are going. Some sighted people don’t believe that blind people can give them directions to go anywhere. We are helpless and weak to these people. They believe they must take care of us and help us get on our way. That is why I am thankful for my training at Blindness: Learning in New Dimensions (BLIND). While I was there, I learned the travel skills I needed to get around independently. I learned how to use sound cues, the sun, and landmarks to find my way around. I also learned to pay attention to where I was going when I was on a bus, in a taxi, or in a car. More importantly, I learned that I could travel confidently, and that I was capable of giving good directions.
My friends may have been amazed that a blind person could give
a sighted person accurate directions. I was able to explain how I give directions,
and they saw that a blind person could do something so normal. As we do things
like this, we change people’s perceptions of what blind people can do. That’s
what we’re good at in the National Federation of the Blind. As we learn the
skills of blindness, we have the power to change attitudes about blindness.
Being able to give directions is just part of this. So I can say to my friends,
“Yes, I do know what direction I am going, and I can help you as well!”
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