When our club president for the National Federation of the Blind sent an email out asking for a sighted volunteer to help set up an information table at Voices for Independence in Erie, PA, I decided I had enough sight to help her. After all, I frequently set up my own book displays.
Since I was deep into planning a future event called Disability InSIGHTS, taking place in October, I thought I would combine the two opportunities and pass out fliers for the latter event.
With the clock ticking, my team raced to create a logo and flier to go out to publicize my event. It took a lot of coordination but we did it! But … my printer was down. So on the morning I was due to help set up, I frantically called the printer’s and put in an order for copies of my flier. Only then did I remember to check the email to see what time I needed to help set the table up with Connie, my club president.
A glance at the email sent my heart racing. Set up: 9:30. Ten minutes away, and not only did I not have copies in hand, I needed to get ready and wake up my brother to drive.
Connie didn’t seem ruffled when I phoned to say I would be a little late. She had another member driving her and helping to set up. “I think we will be okay until you arrive.”
“Sure thing!” I calculated how much time it would take to pick up the fliers and drive to the location. An hour.
LIKE A COMEDY GETTING READY.
It was like a comedy racing to get ready. By good luck, I actually noticed the capris I slipped into had a spot on one leg, so I ran downstairs to my mother’s room where I kept my nicer clothes. In the dim light, I flicked through the hangers until I found a white pair of pants. In my haste, I tried to put two legs into the same pant opening and nearly tripped myself. The pressure was ON!
Shirt! Shirt! I needed a presentable shirt. Just then I recalled a lovely white, skinny-strapped, summery piece to wear under a short-sleeved blouse. I dashed a comb through my hair, and threw on some socks and shoes without even untying them. After patting down my purse and locating my lipstick, I ran it over my lips. When I caught my reflection in the mirror, I had to laugh. Dressed from head to toe in white, I looked like a naval captain!
“Are you ready? Let’s GO!” I called to my brother.
Already at the wheel, he patiently went through the question ritual. “Do you have your books? Money? Fliers?” He knew from experience it worked better to go through this check than to have to turn around and retrieve something I had forgotten. “Your shoe is untied. Tie it before you trip.”
He waited to back out of the driveway until I fixed the dangling shoestring, I had stepped on en route to the car.
“First we pick up the copies, then we head over to where Connie is,” I said. “I hope it’s all right to pass the fliers out.” I had to stop talking to catch my breath.
Under Mike’s efficient driving, we made it to the print shop in no time at all. I rushed in to collect them and headed over to Voices for Independence. We arrived just as the fair began.
AT THE VOICES OF INDEPENDENCE.
Yeesh! The line wound like a well-coiled snake. One of the organizers had started walking me through to the vendor tables when Wendy, the sighted helper who drove Connie and helped her arrange the table, showed up.
She offered her arm to guide me to the table. But I politely waved her assistance aside.
“Thank you. I can follow.” I didn’t really know how to instruct someone to guide me so it was easier to forge my own way. I told myself, as usual, I didn’t need a human guide (also called a sighted guide). Most of the time I made my way around fine. Crowds challenged me more but if I focused, I would be all right. It was only a hundred yards to the table.
Wendy veered to the left, and I followed her to the wall. There, I squeezed past the end table where Bill and Cathy were positioned. I knew them from the PA Business Spotlight, so I waved. A minute later, I arrived at our table, which was attractively set up.
I made it in time. The information fair had just begun.
Connie and I chatted with the attendees. She took the lead in promoting the National Federation of the Blind. Every once in a while, I passed out a flier to my event.
An hour or so into the information fair, an organizer came by to let us know we could take a break and taste the wonderful food at a pig roast in the parking lot. Pig roast! Suddenly I could smell barbecued meat coming from an open door.
Yes, yes, yes! That seemed like a fabulous idea. My stomach growled in anticipation. I loved pig roasts, especially barbecued pulled pork.
“Let’s go,” Connie enthused. “I’m ready now. Can you serve as my sighted guide?”
I gulped. “Of course,” I said, with more confidence than I felt. This role reversal would challenge me. I had only ever had people offer to guide me, not the other way around. I had never been in the position where I needed to guide anyone.
SERVING AS A HUMAN GUIDE.
I tried to recall how to give assistance. That took going back to several years earlier when my mobility instructor and I had briefly practiced various techniques. She had said, “You need to know how to tell people to help you if you are in a situation where it’s more convenient to have a human guide than use your cane.”
Does the other person hold onto my elbow? Do I take hers? Or is it the crook of my arm? Definitely not the wrist!
“I’ll hold onto your elbow,” Connie said smoothly, in control of the situation.
Whew! I let out a sigh of relief.
I shorelined the wall with my cane. When I turned the corner, to my dismay, I found Connie was not with me.
Suddenly I realized the slight pressure on my elbow was missing. Oh no … How could I lose Connie, not even thirty seconds into our walk?!
Where did she go? Con-nie! Not only did I miss setting up the table, now I couldn’t even be a proper sighted guide. I stunk at this sighted stuff.
I suddenly spotted her. “There you are.” Relief flooded through me.
She smiled easily. “Sorry, the passageway is too narrow behind the tables. I took a short cut between our table and the next one. I should have told you.” She didn’t seem remorseful, and in fact, it seemed she had a twinkle in her eye.
Yeah, you should have. That’s when I realized this human guide is a two-way street, negotiating one’s path for both the traveler and guide. I needed to guide her around obstacles and explain what she couldn’t see, but, she needed to maintain communication with me, verbally.
Connie chose only to touch my elbow with hers, so when I moved forward, she did, too. She didn’t need to physically hold the inside of my arm, which I had expected.
The first step was to locate the door leading outdoors to the parking lot. Unfortunately, I led Connie to a door leading back into the building.
She said, “I think the food is in the opposite direction, Amy. I smell it on my left.”
Sure enough, the exit was on Connie’s left. “Yes, yes, you’re right.”
“We are in a line now,” I said, “It’s quite long—all the way around the courtyard. I think we will work up an appetite by the time we reach the food.”
I wanted her to take the crook of my arm so we could walk together more smoothly. But I didn’t feel comfortable enough to suggest it. So we interacted in the way she preferred.
Others handed us plates, silverware and napkins, which helped as I swept my way through the line with my cane, and kept checking to see that Connie was next to me.
When we reached the pig roast, I learned we could only have pig or chicken. Boy, did I want them both. The aromas…! The hunger that pounded in my stomach. When I looked at what seemed a pitiful small amount of pulled pork, I realized the Mediterranean salad would have to fill me up. Yes, I requested extra feta cheese.
After going through the line, I had to decide where we would sit. I felt direction-less until I spotted the canvas of an outdoor tent. Taking tiny steps so I wouldn’t lose Connie, we made our way over to the drink table en route to the tent. There we hit the jackpot. Someone guided us both toward the tent and even carried our drinks.
However, when we reached the tent, there didn’t seem to be any seats.
Connie picked up on the problem without me having to say anything. “Let’s eat back at our table inside the information fair. Do you have any objections to that?” She asked me, politely negotiating.
“Not at all.” I would have floundered in my circumstances, and somehow wedged myself into a small seat. Her calm direction let me off the hook. This sighted guide job had a lot to remember!
The drink girl verbally guided us both back to the building and to our table.
Connie and I walked in easy tandem and finally took our seats.
That short period of time and task held SO. MUCH. VALUE. It taught me how sighted individuals may feel when they are placed in the situation to become a human guide without prior preparation.
TWO PIECES OF ADVICE.
My take-away from that life lesson was two-fold.
It’s important for the blind or vision-impaired individual (also called ‘the traveler’) to tell the sighted guide what he or she needs and is most comfortable with.
Mobility is much safer and smoother when both the traveler and the guide negotiate their movement, communicating effectively about the environment.
You can learn more information about being a Human (also called Sighted) Guide through this excellent article in VisionAware.
The event at Voices for Independence ended at two o’clock. My brother joined us in the pig roast and Chinese Auction, where he won a cooler for drinks with the added bonus of a fanny pack (gifted to me). It was a win-win for everyone.
Attending the event with the President of the NFB taught me how much more I have to learn on my journey to better mobility—both in giving and taking. It was so helpful to be on the guiding end of our travel, allowing me to experience what others go through when they take on the role of human guide for me.
I am always grateful to my first mobility instructor for sharing a vital piece of advice with me when I started my mobility journey a decade ago. The responsibility often lies with the sight-impaired person to make the bridge to the sighted, to put them at ease.
Others with vision loss may not agree but I have found it to be a valuable and enriching guide for my life.
I have found both my mobility and friendships are so much easier, richer and more comfortable when I take that extra step forward. That’s exactly what Connie demonstrated to me when I anxiously took on the role of sighted guide for her.
My task lies ahead of me: I will be working on letting others know how they can best help me as a human guide. I’m not comfortable with that role yet but, with practice, I’ll get there.
Everyday experiences put us on a forward path …
Walk on, friends, walk on.
When have you served to guide someone in need of assistance, due to sight loss, age, or other mobility restrictions? Share in the comments below.
5 Stars “…I’m not vision impaired. I don’t read non-fiction for enjoyment. I am not what some might consider the target market for this book, but I can tell you that I would recommend it to my own teenagers, my husband, my teenage students, and anyone else I know as a book of bravery, encouragement, motivation, testimony, and just as a pleasure read. Don’t pass it by: You will be blessed.”–An Amazon Reader
–An Amazon Reader
5 Stars“Living in the Power instead of the fear!”
Mobility Matters elegantly shares Amy Bovaird’s emotions and experience which anyone going through vision loss can identify with. The transformation as she overcomes her fear and the enemies voices that her loss of vision will now define who she is as a person and dictate the rest of her life, will inspire hope to each reader. Amy’s journey stepping out in faith and how the Lord’s Word gave her the strength to keep going, is a must read.
This book is not only for those going through the hallway of vision loss, but for each family member or any one who loves someone losing their vision would also benefit by reading.
Mobility Matters Stepping out in Faith has left me thinking I will now call canes power sticks!!!
Michael Benson, Founder
Visual Experience Foundation
4 Stars “…As a mobility specialist myself, I found this book of great interest to me for its subject matter. I was quite amazed that Amy could get around on her own with her genetic condition, particularly at night, since individuals with Retinitis Pigmentosa (RP) tend to lose their night vision and are using a cane at night much sooner than Amy was using any assistive device (even a bright light). Amy maintained her positive attitude, her faith and her sense of humour. If only we all could do that in times of crisis!” –Kathryn Svendsen, Mobility Specialist, Canada
5 Stars “Couldn’t stop reading until I finished. Very inspirational. Will definitely be looking for more by this author!” –Sharon Hannah
5 stars “…This book really inspired me. Amy’s outlook on life is what I would like to model in my own. Yes, going blind SUCKS but she took it to another level. She made it into an adventure and I needed to be reminded of that again. Her positive outlook on this all has really encouraged me in my current situation now. Taking the step of faith to move on forward and embrace life for what it is. I highly recommend purchasing this book! Be inspired, take a journey behind the life of someone with Usher, smile, laugh, and enjoy! –Andi Nicole
5 Stars “As a person who lives with chronic illness, I sometimes get bogged down with books on illness that feel really heavy. This one does not. Author Amy Bovaird, who is losing her sight, writes so well about her personal experiences, I feel like I’m walking alongside her as I read. I kept coming back to the story to see what happened–was she going to let fear stop her? Would she overcome?
The lessons Amy learns through her experiences apply to any of us who fear aging, illness, new symptoms, or really anyone who needs some inspiration, and that reminder that much can be accomplished if you step out and forward–even when you cannot see beyond that first step. I definitely enjoyed this book. –Kimberly Rae, Bestselling Author of the Stolen Series
Blog post review by Gillian Davis, RP Tunnel of Sight
One of the best books I have ever read about mobility and white cane use is called Mobility Matters: Stepping out in Faith by Amy Bovard. It is funny, poignant and packs a lot of tips and useful information. You can find it by following the link below to Amy’s web page and listen to a chapter before you buy, it is wonderful.