Winter Travel Safety Tips for the Visually Impaired

It’s cold outside, there is slippery ice, piles of snow, and blustering winds that sometimes create navigation challenges for people with a vision impairment. Do not let an inclement weather forecast keep you indoors. Whether you want to travel, find an outdoor adventure or sharpen your mobility skills use these safety tips to make the most of your experience in winter weather.

First get mentally prepared. During the winter traveling with a white cane or guide dog is more time consuming. it is physically and mentally tiring because of the way you navigate through cold, wind and snow. Some locations make winter travel more dangerous than being outdoors in warmer weather. Cold temperatures can be a distraction, making it difficult to concentrate. Be prepared by learning about your destination. Ask questions, check weather reports, and give yourself plenty of time to get there.

Stay warm by evaluating your wardrobe. Be sure to dress in layers so you can remove clothing as needed. Sweaters, turtlenecks and flannel shirts are great items to wear under a coat or heavy jacket that is warm and comfortable. 

Next check your hands. Mittens and gloves can keep your hands warm but can be difficult to use with a white cane. Some people cut off the tips of their gloves for better sensitivity. Others remove the glove piece but keep the lining in place for coverage. Adapt your mittens for holding a cane by cutting a hole at the tip, inserting the cane into the hole, and putting your hand in the mitten to grip the cane.

Wear good winter boots that are water resistant with soles that have good traction. The soles should not be too thick, or else you will lose sensitivity from the ground surface. Get properly fitted boots to avoid discomfort. Consider using traction devices that you put on the bottom of your boots that grip the snow/ice and make walking easier and less slippery. Get good socks for boot wearing. Not all socks are alike. If unsure talk to a department store clerk or sporting goods salesperson. 

Keep your head covered. The majority of a person’s body heat is lost if the head is not covered. Choose close-fitting hats. Or cover your head with a scarf and wrap the loose ends around the neck; tucking into the coat collar. Avoid hats with ear flaps, ear muffins, or hoods because they can block your ability to hear vital sounds. 

Be visible to drivers. Darkness typically comes faster during winter months and if you have a vision impairment you want drivers to see you on the street and sidewalk. Use a reflector or reflecting tape on your coat or jacket. Also, wear bright colored clothing like reds, oranges and yellows to stand out against the snow. Always remember to travel with a flashlight.

Pay more attention to your white cane. Since you are traveling on snow and ice observe the surfaces you are walking on. Tap your cane harder on the ground to get to the concrete under a pile of snow or to break up ice patches. When approaching a curb, the snow may be piled up at the edge making it difficult to find that curb cut.

Keep track of time. Travel with a charged cell phone so you can call for help if necessary. Let friends and family know that you are out and when you will return. Use an accessible compass or a handy GPS app on your smartphone to keep track of your directions and location. Learn about way-finding, GPS and other navigational apps on the market through Outlook’s adaptive technology training program.

It’s okay to stay home. Don’t go out if weather conditions are really ugly. This is not a reflection on your ability to be an independent traveler but it is common sense. It is more important to be safe than travel in really bad weather. If you must travel consider alternative transportation options like Uber, Lyft, or public transit.

Travel is an important part of life but knowing how to travel safely in the winter weather is critical. These tips will help prepare you for a safe arrival to your destination. Having a vision impairment doesn’t mean you have to give up traveling independently.