Winter weather can often present challenging and, at times, dangerous conditions for people who have a visual impairment.
Sight Scotland Veterans rehabilitation officer, Katrina, gives her tips for staying safe and maintaining independence while out and about when the winter weather sets in.
Dealing with glare
Glare can prove a particular problem in winter for people with sight loss because the sun is low in the sky during the morning and late afternoon. There is an additional chance of glare if the sun reflects off snow, ice and water on the road.
There are simple solutions that can help with this issue, such as wearing a brimmed or skip hat and wearing anti-glare shields which cut out the blue light. Anti-glare shields come in various colours and styles – it’s best to speak to your outreach worker, rehabilitation officer or low vision clinic to ensure you get the correct colour and style to suit you.
Dealing with the dark
Darkness comes with winter’s shorter days. This can, of course, be a problem for many people, but especially for those who have a visual impairment. It can be especially difficult for people with retinitis pigmentosa (RP), who experience night blindness due to loss of peripheral vision as a result of the condition.
If your vision is reduced further by the dark, we recommend that you carry a symbol or guide cane when you’re out and about. These canes are small enough to fit into a pocket or handbag, so they can be easily brought out when needed. They are also reflective and will help to make any fellow pedestrians or passengers and drivers aware that you have sight loss. You may want to have a discussion with your rehabilitation officer about the use of a long cane and training which can enhance your safety and mobility skills.
It may be helpful to carry a small torch to help to provide extra light, especially in unfamiliar areas and for tasks like looking at bus timetables.
It’s extremely important to be visible to drivers, especially during the dark winter months. We recommend wearing brightly coloured outerwear that stands out, or consider adding a reflective item to give drivers more warning by the roadside and as you cross roads.
You could consider wearing a high-visibility vest, sash or armbands to make yourself more visible.
Mobility cane use in the cold
If you’re using a long cane in cold winter weather, we recommend wearing leather/vegan leather gloves rather than woollen gloves, as these are not so thick that they reduce your ability to pick up changes in surface texture through your cane. Another idea is to wear a golf club cover over the hand which will enable the wearer to hold the cane in the usual way.
The arrival of snow can bring added challenges. Sounds or echoes that can normally be helpful for orientating around surroundings may be muffled, and it can make it harder to hear the sound of cars. We recommend wearing a beanie-style hat which can be folded above the ears, so as not to impede auditory clues.
A light cane touch is recommended for fluffy snow and a heavier touch for icy conditions. Poking through the snow with the cane to gauge its depth and consistency is also useful.
Using the inner edge (or ‘shoreline) of a path, where there is one, should make travelling through snow easier as it gives you a line of travel and can prevent you wandering onto the road where the snow has covered the kerb edge.