Braille Monitor                                                           April 2007

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Travel Class from Hell

by Robert Gardner

Bob Gardner uses his white cane to find an empty city bus seat.From the Editor: Bob Gardner is president of the Black Hawk Chapter of the NFB of Illinois. He is a retired engineer who lost his sight halfway through his working career. He and his wife Nancy have two grown children and enjoy traveling. As Bob became more familiar with the philosophy of the National Federation of the Blind and got to know people who don’t let blindness prevent them from doing what they want to do, he decided that he wanted truly effective blindness training. He enrolled in BLIND, Incorporated, our adult rehabilitation training center in Minneapolis, operated by the NFB of Minnesota. He has now graduated and returned home. Here is Bob's story of one particularly frustrating travel route and what he did about it:

“Where are we?” asked Jenny, irritation in her voice.
“I don’t know,” I snapped. “I thought we were where we’re supposed to be. But nothing checks out.”

The two of us had been sent out for our travel class at BLIND, Inc., the NFB training center in Minneapolis. The route had seemed simple: take a bus north to downtown Minneapolis, get off at 6th Street and Nicollet, walk one long block west to Hennepin Avenue. Cross hectic Hennepin, turn left, then find the entrance to Block E, a large interior mall. Our actual assignment was to locate the Borders Bookstore, but something had gone wrong. We’d made that final left turn to find the entrance to Block E. Yet nothing seemed right. We stood disoriented, long white canes in hand, but we didn’t panic. Jenny, an experienced traveler, had been at BLIND, Inc., for five months, and I’d been in training for two. We had been taught to use our heads to figure out how to get where we wanted to go.

Our downtown travel had submerged us in construction noise, and heavy traffic whooshed down the streets around us. The sidewalks were extra wide, crowded with pedestrians and a crude line of planters, garbage cans, streetlights, and assorted poles along the curb. Shorelining with the cane was impractical if not impossible. All we could do was walk as straight a line as possible, trying to keep toward the middle of the sidewalk. But dealing with such difficulties was the purpose of this downtown travel route, and both Jenny and I had tackled similar routes before.

We’d somehow gotten off track today. We’d followed our mental map of the route, but we weren’t where we should be. Finally I had to ask someone where we were. The man gave the common sighted response: “Where do you want to go?” But we hadn’t wanted to be taken anywhere. All we wanted was to be reoriented. With that information we were sure we could get where we needed to go.

Eventually the man explained that we were on the east side of Hennepin. To this day I don’t know how we had landed on the east side of the street rather than the west side, where we were supposed to be. Whatever we had done, neither Jenny nor I had caught it.

“Okay,” I then said to Jenny, “let’s walk north, and we can probably figure out where we are if we can check out the traffic on the cross street.” The traffic turned out to be one-way, going west. “That must be Fifth Street,” I said, remembering previous travel lessons from Zach, the mobility instructor at BLIND, Inc. “The odd-numbered streets down here are one-ways going west.”

“It’s Fifth,” replied Jenny. “Hear the bell over there? That’s the light rail, and it runs down the other side of Fifth.”

I heard the bell and knew Jenny was right. We’d learned about the light rail, a commuter train system, in an earlier travel session. Once more we were certain of our location. We were standing at the southeast corner of Hennepin and Fifth.

Using our straight canes, we scampered with new confidence across Hennepin, a nightmare street of six busy lanes, then strolled one block south. We again used our canes to discover various doors and finally found the entrance to Block E. That task had been simplified for us because early in the morning the main door to the mall was the only one unlocked.

We had been told that Borders was on the first floor. Exploring, we soon became frustrated when we couldn’t find it. Then we were told Borders was actually somewhere on the second floor of the mall. Jenny and I figuratively rolled our eyes and said the heck with it. We were both disgusted that nothing seemed to be going right. Jenny suggested we head back to the center before time for getting to our next class ran out.

We retraced our route, heading back to Nicollet Avenue to catch a bus back to the center. I was mad at myself. When I had first come to BLIND, Inc., I was unsure whether I could walk the half block from the apartment house to catch the bus for school. I’d made good progress in two months. Yet here for the first time on a travel route I’d become confused and didn’t know where I was. The situation hadn’t frighten me--I was just mad at myself. How had I screwed up?

Nicollet was a restricted-traffic street, relatively narrow and quiet. With all the background noise, I kept checking as we walked across Sixth to make sure we hadn’t miss the corner. At one point I sensed an opening to my right, the direction we wanted to go, so I turned. I immediately found myself tromping down a concrete ramp. Whoa! I’d stumbled into some kind of parking garage. I backed out of there as quickly as I could.

Anyway, we found the corner, then searched for the bus stop further down Nicollet. We boarded a #18 bus and bounded out at the familiar intersection of Nicollet and Twenty-second, only a block away from the center.

After the roar of the bus subsided, I searched for Jenny. She’d sprinted off without me, probably a sign that she was also steamed. But I was sure she’d crossed the wrong way there at the intersection. “Jenny,” I called. “Where are you?”

“Over here,” she called back.

“Get over here,” I yelled. “You went the wrong way.”

Jenny admitted that she’d made a mistake by crossing the wrong street. But had she? We strolled a block east, and crossed First Avenue; then I checked to the left with my cane for the short concrete wall fronting the center. And . . . there was no wall. My God, I’d messed up again! Jumping off the bus, I, not Jenny, had apparently gone the wrong way.

We eventually did make it back. We figured out we were on the south side of Twenty-second Street rather than the north where we should have been. Jenny was the one who finally found the steps up to the center. “Well,” I growled, shuffling in the front door, “that was certainly the travel class from hell.” Jenny just grumbled something under her breath. That concluded the worst travel session I had had to that date.

The next day in travel class I was still upset about the events of the day before, still disappointed in my performance. I asked Zach if I could do that route to Block E again. This time Jenny wasn’t in the class, and I did the route solo. And I made it to Block E, no problem. I was still confused about what had happened the day before, but I’d proven to myself that I could do that route successfully.
To up the challenge to myself, I decided to take a different route back to the center. I still needed to reconfirm my travel skills. Instead of going back to Nicollet, I hopped on a #6 bus that wheeled south down Hennepin. I stepped off the bus at Twenty-eighth Street, near the student apartments, then tracked down a nearby coffee shop.

I’d never been to that coffee shop alone before, but using my nose, my ears, and my cane, I found the door. I ended up sipping coffee at an outside table in the sunshine. I then crossed Hennepin at Twenty-eighth Street and caught a #17 bus back to the center.
I felt exonerated for the slip-ups of the day before. Although I’d traveled independently both days, getting where I wanted to go and getting back, today felt much better than yesterday. Wow, I thought. After only two months of training at BLIND, Inc., I’d gone from being unable to walk half a block to the bus stop to wandering around downtown Minneapolis and using the Metro Transit system at will.
Back at the center I couldn’t resist teasing Jenny. I joked about how I’d sauntered back to Block E--alone--and returned without complications. “Without you along,” I said, tongue-in-cheek, “everything went great. Maybe you were the problem yesterday.”
Little Jenny, coming only up to my chin, didn’t see the humor in my wisecrack. She snarled at me, and I jumped back. Travel was taken seriously at BLIND, Inc., and I should have known to keep my mouth shut.


An Overview of Planned Giving

Making a charitable gift is one of the most satisfying experiences in life. Each year millions of people contribute their time, talent, and treasure to charitable organizations. When you plan for a gift to the National Federation of the Blind, you are not just making a donation; you are leaving a legacy that insures a future for blind people throughout the country. Here are some of the special giving programs available through the National Federation of the Blind:

The National Federation of the Blind is a service organization specializing in providing the help to blind people that is not readily available to them from government programs or other existing service systems. The services of the NFB are specially designed to meet the needs of all blind people. By maintaining a widespread campaign of public education, advocating for the rights of blind children and their families, administering scholarship and mentoring programs for blind youth, providing financial and other specialized assistance, conducting seminars on blindness, evaluating and developing accessible technology, and providing information and services to senior citizens so that they can adjust to vision loss and live more accessible and independent lives, the NFB is changing what it means to be blind.

We will be happy to provide you with further information about the National Federation of the Blind or any of these giving opportunities. Please call or write us at:

National Federation of the Blind
Department of Outreach Programs
1800 Johnson Street
Baltimore, MD 21230
(410) 659-9314, ext. 2406
[email protected]

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