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Exploring the Neighborhood in a Whole New Way

Posted in New to Blindness, and Newly Blind

Last updated on October 29, 2023

by Nicole Hill


My name is Nicole Hill. I am 23 years old and attending Idaho State University. I will graduate in Spring 2024 with a bachelor’s degree in social work. Graduating is a big deal to me, especially since I am visually impaired. I lost most of my vision when I was 13 years old. I have learned a lot of skills and I use many tools to help compensate for my blindness and ultimately lead to my success. One important tool is my white cane, which I was resistant to using when I first lost my vision, but I quickly changed my mind after I got lost in my neighborhood. The following story is an adaptation from an English assignment my first semester of college.

I stood in the doorway, contemplating whether or not to bring my white cane on a walk. The Commission for the Blind gave me the cane and told me it would help me be a competent traveler, but I was not persuaded. I didn’t want to be stigmatized as the blind girl! The cane somehow made me feel less than sighted people; I was more vulnerable. Assuming my family dog Mozzie, would be a good substitute, I heedlessly left my cane in the corner and stepped out the front door.

Outside the sky was overcast, unusual weather for August; the sky was not too bright. With the sun hidden, the day was not hot, but a comfortable temperature that required a light jacket. The neighborhood was silent with no kids playing outside and no cars on the road, but there was a gentle breeze whooshing in my ears. The peaceful scene enveloped and calmed me. My breathing was easy and I didn’t have thoughts racing through my head.

I walked down the driveway to the sidewalk, which could easily be spotted because of the grass on either side. Mozzie walked along beside me as I went toward the sidewalk. He had an odd habit of walking on the right side of whomever held his leash. I couldn’t see him there, but I could hear his paws pattering against the ground to my right. Since he was right next to me, I only felt slackness on the leash. I couldn’t help thinking, this isn’t working quite how I wanted it to. I had hoped that Mozzie would keep tension on the leash so I could feel where he was going. I wanted him to be my unofficial guide dog. Despite the fact that Mozzie was not doing his job, I knew I was going to get some exercise.

As we walked down the sidewalk, Mozzie began to pull to the left. I guessed we had come to an intersection and that was why we were turning to the left. “We need to stop,” I told Mozzie. I wasn’t sure whether I wanted to cross the street or continue along the sidewalk. I ultimately decided to be adventurous and cross the street.

First, we had to traverse the grassy swell. I knew that I could lose my balance, but I gently tugged on the leash and told Mozzie, “Let’s go.” My first tentative step felt solid and level, but my second step sloped downward. As my heart leapt into my throat and my stomach dropped. I frantically tried to stay erect while gravity pulled me further into the depression. No, no, no! I don’t want to fall! After finding my balance, I stood there for a minute while my racing heart steadied. My body had tensed with a nervous energy. My head was spinning, and I was slightly disoriented. I opened my eyes wide (as if that would help me see better) and looked for the asphalt to locate the street. I spotted a dark mass and started towards it, knowing it was the road.

As I crossed the street with Mozzie, I slowed down to let him take the lead. Reaching another grassy depression, Mozzie and I crossed. Before stepping onto the grass, I took a deep breath, set my jaw, and tensed my abdomen. My stomach dropped, and I stumbled into the depression just like I had before. My heartbeat sped up again and I had to wait a few seconds for it to calm, but this time I had expected the jarring effect of almost falling. I trudged up the slope to the sidewalk and continued on my adventurous walk. “Let’s keep going, Moz.”

After a little while of walking, the tension on the leash began to lessen as Mozzie slowed to a stop. I assumed we had come to another intersection. This is wrong, there should only be one intersection along this sidewalk. Where am I? Am I on the wrong sidewalk? My heart began to race yet again, and my palms became sweaty: I was scared. How am I going to get home? The weather, which had seemed pleasant before the walk now seemed ominous, like a storm was brewing. Accompanying the weather was an urgency to get home, even though I didn’t know where I was.

I attempted to problem solve the situation. “You couldn’t lead me home, could you Moz?” I asked out loud even though I knew that he didn’t understand me. Saying the words instigated some other helpful possibilities. I listened to my surroundings, searching for traffic noises. I couldn’t hear any gravel crunching, indicating there were no cars on the road, and the neighborhood was silent except for the wind blowing against my ears. This isn’t helpful. I focused on the sun, knowing I could figure out the cardinal directions based on the sun’s location. If I could figure out which way was north, east, south and west, I reasoned I could use the directions to find my way home. I started to get excited because this technique would surely help me get home! Only wind caressed my face. I forgot that it was cloudy outside. Shoot! I’ll just keep walking I guess. It’s only my neighborhood, home can’t be that far away.

My hair tossed around in the wind as the breeze became stronger. Underneath my jacket little goosebumps were popping up all along my arms. Mozzie and I kept walking despite the wind and cold; stopping would only add to the chill. If I grew desperate enough, I figured that I could stop and knock on any neighbor’s door and ask for help getting home. “I’m not giving in, and I am not knocking on a neighbor’s door.” I told Mozzie. To my right, a garage door grinded open, and Mozzie’s high-pitched barks pierced the air. Despite my resolution not to ask for help, I thought, Good, I can ask whoever opened the garage where I am and how to get home!

“Nicole, I was just coming to look for you,” said Mom, her voice coming from the open garage. I exhaled a breath I did not know I had been holding, and the tension drained from my body. Mom’s here! I must be home. How did that happen?

Nicole's White Cane Standing Next to Her Front Door“Mom, I got lost. I just wanted to take Mozzie for a walk like I used to.” Mom encompassed me in a hug as Mozzie and I reached her. I had been confident that I would find my way home, but I got lost. I realized the importance of a cane when travelling. Using a cane would have helped me find my house on purpose rather than by accident, so I propped my cane in the corner near the front door where I could quickly grab it before leaving the house.



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