Traveling With Your Eye Shut
Travel Tips for the Visually Impaired
A General Overview
Travel Tips for the Visually Impaired
Part One - A General Overview
By Rochelle Caviness - June 10, 2002
If you have a visual impairment, traveling can have a few extra challenges. However, if you plan ahead and take your sense of humor along on your journey, you may well find that these challenges can add that extra special zest to your trip that makes it truly fun and memorable.
When you pack for your trip, be sure to include your patience and a sense of humor. And, you may want to take along a traveling companion. While traveling along is totally doable, a companion, sighted or otherwise, can immensely add to your pleasure for he or she will provide you with ample opportunities to say, "Oh, did you hear that? Did you see that? Please rub my feet..." In other words, there are added rewards that come when traveling with a companion. Traveling with a sighted companion can be beneficial in that they can help guide you around new environments and handle the paper work, map reading, and in describing the areas you are traveling in. However, for the purpose of this article, I will assume that you are traveling alone, or with a companion that is also visually impaired. In addition, this article is devoted to travel within the US, next month we will cover international travel tips.
Before you even start planning your vacation, be sure that you are prepared for such a journey.
Special Travel Tips:
- Do you have good mobility skills? If not, or if you want a refresher course, contact your mobility instructor as soon as possible.
- Are their any visual aids that you'll need that you don't yet have, such as a monocular for reading signs? If so, look into getting them now as many of these items have a 'training period' that you need to go through before you become comfortable, and proficient with using them.
- Don't forget your eyeglasses, sunglasses, or other visual aids.
- Try to plan out your trip, as much as possible, before leaving. This will not only give you a chance to predetermine the level of accessibility of each location, but it will also give you the opportunity to have written directions written out, before you go. These directions can be especially handy when taking a cab as you can simply hand the driver the directions to the hotel.
- Carry all important papers, such as passport, tickets, money, and directions on your person at all times - preferably in a pocket that can be closed with a button or velcro type fastener. This way, if your purse, luggage, or wallet is stolen or lost, you will still have everything 'on you' that you need to complete your trip.
- Whenever possible, make all your reservations in advance, and let the establishments know if you will be needing special assistance, and / or if you will be traveling with a guide dog. See part two for more tips on Traveling with a Guide Dog.
- Most importantly, don't be afraid, or ashamed to ask for help. Sighted people do it all the time - so why shouldn't you? As an added bonus, especially in airports, if you inform the staff that you are visually impaired, they may (depending upon the policies as individual airports) escort you to the front of the security line, and most larger airports will drive you to the gate. See part four, Air Travel for more tips on flying.
- Hotel Key Cards - Many hotels now use key cards, which are credit card sized cards that are used to open room doors. These cards have a magnetic stip on them that has to be read by the lock in order for the door to open. How the cards are used varies depending upon the type of lock. In some cases you swipe the card through a small grove, and in other cases you have to insert the card and then pull it out. Be sure that the clerk explains how the card works. As well, ask if he can cut off one corner of the card, opposite the magnetic strip, so that you will know which way to hold the card so that the magnetic strip is facing the right direction when you use the card.
- Discouts - Many attractions, ranging from amusement parks to zoos, offer discounts for visually impaired visitors. Check with the appropriate visitors bureau, as well as with the attraction itself to find out if a discount is available. If you are traveling with a sighted guide, also be sure to ask if he can 'get one too'.
- Luggage - Be sure to mark you luggage in some distinctive manner so that 1) you can recognize it or 2) so that you can easily describe it to someone getting your luggage for you.
- Carry your White Cane - Even if you don't normally need or use your cane, carry it with you anyway. This will help alert people that you are visually impaired, and it will also help 'prove' that you are visually impaired (you'll find that some people stubbornly refuse to take your word for it - especially if you're not totally blind, ugh!!!)
- Touching Exhibits - If you visit a museum or other 'sight oriented' attraction, be sure to ask the staff if you can touch the exhibits. Many will allow you to touch items normally off limits, and you may find that your request results in a private, guided tour!
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