A man uses walking poles to hike in a snow-covered landscape.
When you're blind or visually impaired, safely navigating the snow and ice of Wisconsin winters takes extra care. Read on to learn about the tools and techniques that can help you stay active, go holiday shopping with friends and enjoy our winter wonderland.
Ten Safety Tips for Walking in The Winter:
- Walk slowly and deliberately, using a "penguin" walking technique. A "penguin" walking technique is turning feet slightly outward, and then taking short, choppy, steps moving forward. Keep hands out to your sides, free from pockets to assist with balance or in case of a fall.
- Exercise caution when getting in and out of vehicles. Swing both feet out of the vehicle, place them securely on the ground, hold a stable part of the vehicle, and then shift weight onto your feet and stand up.
- Be aware and feel for slippery floors when entering buildings. If the floor is wet, walk near a wall using a hand against the wall to keep steady, and try to walk on a mat or carpet if available.
- Avoid carrying items so your hands are free to navigate or catch a fall.
- As you walk, note the importance appropriate lighting can play in your safety. To help with bright sun and glare, use sunglass filters to maintain optimal vision. Wearing a head lamp in darker conditions can help you spot ice or other obstacles, especially in the winter time when there are longer periods of darkness, and also help keep hands free to hold railings or brace a fall.
- Wear footwear which has good traction on the soles to reduce slipping, and footwear that has higher ankle support for stability.
- Use a handrail when possible, especially when walking up or down steps.
- If walking with someone, work with them as a sighted guide, to assist with avoiding icy spots which may be hard to detect with a cane.
- Take extra time when coming in or out of buildings, giving eyes time to adjust to the changing of the light conditions.
- Use winter safety equipment (see below) when walking in snowy or icy conditions.
Winter Walking with a Cane:
Use thin, thermal gloves to ensure a good grip on the cane while keeping your hands warm. Different cane tips can be used depending on the situation and weather conditions - and make sure to carry options with you so you are ready for different conditions. The Council carries all these cane tips in the Sharper Vision Store.
- Pencil Tip: Gives the most feedback, but is not the best for constant contact with the ground as it could get stuck.
- Marshmallow Tip: Is great for walking through snow as you can use it to make a path for yourself. Might not be great if it has snowed a lot, though, because it does not slide easily over the snow and could get stuck in drifts.
- Rolling Ball Tip: Is bigger and is great for travel through a lot of snow because it rolls easily. It is not as easy to detect changes between snow and ice, since the tip moves so freely.
Pay attention to how the cane moves on the ground to determine where ice is and where snow is. Ice will be very slippery as the cane slides over it, whereas snow will cause the tip to drag.
Winter Safety Equipment at the Sharper Vision Store:
Yaktrax© are a brand of metal coils which slip over the bottom of shoes or boots. They help increase traction on the snow or ice. Find this product in The Council's Sharper Vision Store, or online.
Add a special "Ice Spike Tip," to a support cane. The tip attaches at the bottom, and can be kept in an upright position when not used. When flipped down, it is ready for use on ice or snow. Get an Ice Spike Tip at the Sharper Vision Store in-person or online.
Stop by the Council to try on a pair of sunglass filters. These can be used to mitigate the impacts of bright sunlight shining off snow.
You can try products in-person to find the perfect item to fit your needs. The Sharper Vision Store is open Monday through Friday, from 8:00 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Extended holiday hours are Thursdays, November 29, December 6 & 20 from 8:30 a.m. - 7 p.m. and Saturdays, November 24, December 8 & 15 from 9:00 a.m. - 12:00 p.m. You can also place an order via phone by calling 800-783-5213 or shop online at WCBlind.org/store.
The Council thanks Tim Bauman, Orientation and Mobility Specialist, for contributing to this article.
SAVE THE DATE: #GIVINGTUESDAY
Tomorrow is Giving Tuesday. Visit WCBlind.org/Donate-Now to give to the Wisconsin Council of the Blind & Visually Impaired any time on November 27.
Visit the Council Facebook page and share one of the #GivingTuesday posts with your family, friends and network. Let us work together to spread the word about impactful programs for people who are blind or visually impaired. Thank you in advance for your generosity.