Navigating our streets without sight

By Jeremy Grandstaff, collaboration consultant, S & G Endeavors

You notice, as you get closer to that intersection, that your heart is beating faster than normal. Your hands are sweaty and you re-position your hold on Jack’s harness. Is traffic more busy than normal? No, it’s normal for a Tuesday afternoon at this time. You hear no people walking near you on the sidewalk; all you hear is the traffic whizzing by at its normal 35 miles per hour. It’s hot out, the sun has been beating its sharpness into your brow  for the last 5.5 miles of your walk. Though you can’t see it, you know the day is beautiful, the trails and creeks were inviting, and you enjoyed the walk up to this last leg, when you started down this busy street. You wonder, as you approach the intersection, is Jack just as nervous as you? But why are either of you nervous when this is a normal route for you? You stop and you ponder the situation for a bit.

Jack has been that faithful Seeing Eye Dog with whom you have traveled the country. His spirit, though a little too playful at times, has been a key part of your amazing navigation team for the last eight years. As a blind person, you could have chosen to use a cane, but you chose instead to put your trust in this amazing animal, who, though he can’t find a park bench to sit on, helps ensure that you navigate streets, construction, and even rooms at times, with an increased confidence and style. You’ve traveled to big cities, little cities, and all types of terrain in between. “Oh, if that dog could tell stories,” you chuckle to yourself.

                                                                                                          Jeremy's Seeing Eye Dog, Jack.

                                                                                                          Jeremy's Seeing Eye Dog, Jack.

But, lately, Jack’s disposition has begun to change. He has grown more aggressive in his ownership of the sidewalk lately. He’s grown a bit more nervous and reactionary lately. And though you know that part of this has to do with his pending time of retirement this year, you also have to own that you’ve grown more nervous, more anxious lately too. And, as you stand, thinking, at this intersection, you remember why. It was just one month earlier, that that guy in the 3000 pound car had simply made a right hook turn in front of you. Though he had looked for traffic, he forgot to look back to make sure you weren’t going, and had you and Jack not been so alert that day, he could have ran you right over.

As it turned out, you walked away from that situation with a scrape on the leg, but the dramatic affects had been more than you realized. “At the same time,” you heard yourself remark out loud standing at that same intersection, “nobody gets to take that confidence away from us. No car or no unobservant driver gets to take our independence.” You move toward the intersection, listening intently to traffic, You wait for the light to change, and then as you hear the traffic on your right, parallel to you, begin to move, you give Jack that forward command. You both move into the street. About half way across, Jack stops abruptly, backs up…a car whizzes around you to make that left-hand turn, then Jack moves forward confidently again to finish the crossing. As you walk onto the curb at the other side, you pause to reflect for a moment…

The United States has a commitment to serving all people, whether they have a physical limitation of some kind or something else that is holding them back. During your recent trip to Iceland, you remarked several times at the lack of curb cuts, abundance of small sidewalks, lack of accommodations for wheel chair users, and so many other things that we, as differently abled individuals, take for granted. But, just because we are more advanced in these accommodations doesn’t mean we should stop fighting for more, or further, that we should stop trying to educate drivers that paying close attention to the road is crucial to both your safety and the safety of others who may be walking, biking, scooting, or even wheeling because for them, that is there only option of transportation. You reflect again at the marvel that is where you live and at the several more fights you’ll help to lead, but you think to yourself, as you and Jack press on, that today you got that confidence back by making yourself take on the challenge of that crossing; that car, though it may have taken part of your skin when it hit you, was not able to stop you from being the confident traveler that you need to be, to be the most successful you. Now, if we could just find some way to teach Jack to find those park benches!