* Excerpt from Blake’s book: Out of Sight Living
People often ask me which of my four senses is the most valuable. With no reservation, I always reply that my hearing is the most important because of my superior sense of echo, which helps me avoid running into people or things. I am able for example, to use the echoes to guide me in walking around a person or an object in my direct path. I as well perceive when to accurately make a turn just as if I could see. I presume that this is the type of mechanism bats use to hear. I have only two limitations, which come to mind. One restraint is that I cannot hear when there is a flight of stairs going down, however I can usually feel the draft. The other downside is that an object needs to be at least waist high before my ears can pick up an echo.
At times this has caused me pain—literally. Take for example, a dog’s favorite thing to mark his spot on…yes, a fire hydrant. Fire hydrants hurt. I can’t for the life of me figure out why dogs like them so much. I don’t particularly care for their height or lack thereof. Fortunately though, if I am properly using my cane, I no longer deal with this dilemma.
Another frequent enquiry from people, is regarding “how I am able to navigate into unfamiliar areas?” I have had quite the journey of navigating, which all started with my mobility instructor, Pat Soja. Pat Soja taught me the importance of focusing on my hearing to assist in my independence. Part of the training I received involved complete concentration on my keenly sharpened sense of hearing in order to line up with traffic and confidently cross busy intersections with stoplights.
Something very exciting and life changing happened, the summer following my freshman year in high school. It was time to experience self-navigation right in our hometown. At the time my family lived in the small suburb of Westfield, just north of Indianapolis. Mr. Soja patiently and effectively educated me with
walking all over Westfield. He first taught me how to get to my favorite hometown hot spots, otherwise known as places to eat. The bakery was the first place we journeyed. I won’t ever forget the enthusiasm of the pleasant
lady, who worked there, when I mastered the trip, and could walk unattended. She quickly became an encouraging friend.
After the bakery Mr. Soja and I strolled to other restaurants. He showed me how to walk to the post office and other helpful places. There were occasional mishaps, forgetting where to make a turn or going too far or not far enough. But when I had it down, being able to walk about freely throughout my hometown, gave me a great sense of independence. I could observe through people’s friendly communication, that they were impressed and inspired, watching me without a guide.
Prior to learning self-navigation, I would often find myself with nothing to do. At times I was restless. Suddenly, everything had changed for the better. The Christmas break following my working with Mr. Soja, I decided to take a walk. The only difference about this walk as to previous walks was the fact that there was eight inches of snow on the ground. Snow is a bit of a hindrance for blind people because we rely primarily on sound to help us navigate.
Snow resembles carpet, which is known for muting sound waves, and causing our surroundings to be silenced. An inch of snow can mute sound, so you can probably imagine what big snowdrifts do. Snowdrifts create significant barriers, and believe me when I tell you, that they achieve this distraction in more ways than one. I sure found out the hard way one cold winter day, as I was returning home from a solo walk. I became disoriented and missed my turn. Fortunately my mother knew my expected arrival time and when I didn’t make it home, she went out to search for her aggressively independent son. She found me, took me home and thawed me out! I completely learned a great lesson about navigating after a snowstorm. Today, I do not have to worry too much about traveling in the snow. Dallas, Texas, does not get wintry weather like Indiana.
Snow has its amusing moments, however I am grateful for southern weather patterns, for mobility sake. I occasionally get disoriented, when learning new territory, but if I learn the route I am taking with the assistance of a good traveler, I am able to memorize poles, shrubs and other markings I can feel or hear, which help me to get back on track.
When it comes to traveling, a number of my blind friends choose to use Seeing Eye dogs. These well-trained dogs can be a great guiding companion and a fun friend. These amazing animals expand visually impaired people’s newfound freedom to the maximum. It is enjoyable to observe the increased confidence
demonstrated by Blind people, especially those who desired additional assurance.
I have never felt a true need to have a guide dog myself, but since I am very fond of animals, I take great pleasure in being around pets in general.
For me, using a cane is the way to go. This subject is frequently addressed and I teasingly say to people that I have a stick dog named Bruiser, and that he requires no food, water, potty breaks, or trips to the veterinarian.
I was introduced to my stick dog (walking cane) at age 11, when I took a mini-mobility course at the Indiana School for the Blind. On and off, I enjoyed taking additional training, and by age 15, I completely understood the importance of using the cane for my independence and began to train quite intensely on mobility movements.
One of the most phenomenal things I have learned about all people is our God given ability to develop and sharpen our senses rather quickly. I have witnessed first hand, this rapid development of hearing, through working with sighted mobility instructors.
Each person going through mobility instructor school is required to perform while being blindfolded several times before they can earn their license to teach us orientation mobility. In only a few days without taking a break from wearing the Blindfold, these people also develop out of necessity, the same expanded echo perception that I benefit from. The improvement of this “radar hearing” happens in only a few days as well for people, who have recently lost their eyesight. This proves to me, that we would all be pleasantly surprised with
the senses we can uncover and take advantage of, when survival is our main concern.
I have always observed, that each of us in one way or another learns to adapt and compensate whether it be loss of a faculty, being too short or too tall, or having other special needs that are not common for most people. Everybody is special in one way or another.
We were terrifically and wonderfully made by Father God.