The house was quiet as I lay awake at 6:00 in the morning. I was visiting a friend in her home in Cincinnati. It was my first visit there, and the night before, she had given me a thorough orientation of the layout of the whole first floor. My friend is blind too, and she is experienced at teaching all sorts of skills to people who are visually impaired, including orientation to a new place. As we entered each room and hallway, she had been careful to point out tactile cues that would help me navigate safely around her home. Area rugs placed strategically and changes in flooring materials helped me recognize important cues, like where the stairs going down to the basement were. No, we did not count steps, but my friend patiently helped me memorize the instructions for her new coffee maker, practice going down the back steps to take Pippen out, and learn how to operate the radio in my room, just in case I got up before she did.
Now that I was rested, and my friend was still asleep in her bedroom upstairs, I decided to go exploring on my own. The night before, I hadnt sorted out in my mind how the living room furniture was arranged. If I sat on the sofa, was I facing the front of the house or the side? Then if I wanted to walk back to my room, did I turn to the right or walk straight ahead. I was given a detailed tour the night before, but I needed to make a map in my head. To help clear up the picture, I brailed my way around the room and discovered the fire place, a rocking chair and a piano that I had forgotten about. Then I tested myself, walking carefully from one room to another. So, if the dining room window faces the street, then where does the kitchen window face? When my foot detects a threshold, does that mean the next door on the left will be the bathroom:? My pre-dawn solo travels around the house enabled me to feel more confident about moving from one place to another without help. I was going to be in this house for the next 3 days, and I wanted to have an awareness of where things were in relation to other things. Thats basically how independent blind people manage their mobility. Start from a reference point, like the front door, and then memorize whether to turn right or left to find the door to the kitchen. I do the same routine when I first move into a hotel room. Learning how to work an appliance is done in the same way. Taking a persons finger and placing it on the power button is not going to help her when you arent there to guide her finger. But if you tell her that the power button is the first button on the right, and the volume button is the third from the left will enable her to use it on her own. Its just like those maps in large buildings or parks that have a marker that is labeled You are here. Thats how you know how to get from where you ar to where you want to be. We make maps in our heads, and its best, at least for me, if I can practice the navigation alone. When I do, I feel better about myself as a guest, and my host does too. She doesnt have to worry about my getting lost in her house.