Of Shorter Days & Brighter Nights: “Street Smart” for the Dark

Whether you are running down to the neighborhood Starbucks to fetch a tasty Frappuccino, or walking three-blocks to catch the school bus or heading home from your after-school job, chances are good that you are navigating your neighborhood pathways and street crossings. Autumn is in full swing.  For many of us, the sunset is already arriving earlier each day and our clocks will soon be falling back an hour.

a dark street at night, a person walks by bright car headlights

October is National Pedestrian Safety Month, making this the perfect time to polish up on our street smarts.  Maybe you already hear your Orientation & Mobility Instructor’s voice in your head reminding you to be vigilant as you travel holding your head high and proudly brandishing your white cane.  It’s time to dig out our bright coats and accessories so we can be seen by motorists and bicyclists.

As you begin to accessorize for walking more frequently in the dark, and outfit yourself from head to toe for being outside in colder weather, here are some choice tips from expert O&M instructors and seasoned blind travelers to help you stay happy and safe while navigating the world.

  • Ditch the dark: It’s time to switch up your wardrobe to include lighter colors and outerwear with reflective elements.  Adding reflective bands, small LED clips or straps, and even head-mounted lamps will help make you more visible to drivers.  Investing in reflective tape for your coat and/or backpack can also go a long way towards increasing your visibility and helping you stay safe.
  • Wear a reflective vest: Now, yeah it may sound silly, but then again, many who work in the trenches of transportation wear bright reflective gear including: bus and rail operators, forklift operators and county and federal employees who work on road repair crews.  A shopping trip to Walmart, Target or online at Amazon will show you plenty of reflective vest and bright outerwear options.
  • Have Cane or Dog – Will Travel: Your white cane and/or guide dog should also not miss out on the accessorizing for your safe travels. Adding reflective tape to your cane and/or adding reflective or lighted elements for your dog are quick and easy ways to make them more visible in the dark.  Not only can you add reflective tape to a harness, you can also buy a LED-lighted collar for your dog.
  • Unfamiliar with your surroundings: Be sure to have your emergency contact on speed dial just in case you find yourself navigating your neighborhood and come across an unexpected obstacle, road detour, or become turned around.  This might even be the case for travelers with low vision when the landmarks that seemed familiar earlier in the day become unfamiliar in the longer shadows and decreased light on your way home at night.  With many smart phones you can quickly video-chat a family member or loved one to assist in guiding you out of a pickle.
  • Virtually review your routes: Thanks to smart phones and tablets with access to brilliant accessible GPS apps such as Google Maps, Apple Maps, Blind Square, Seeing Eye GPS and a myriad of others, you have the world at the tips of your fingers. Use these apps to review your routes before you leave.  This is especially important if you are headed to a new bus stop or new destination.  Many of these GPS apps can give you virtual step-by-step rout instructions.
  • When in doubt, speak up: Let your local transportation agency know when you encounter barriers or obstacles along your route that limit your ability to freely travel to and from destinations.  Whether it’s a curb cut, crack in the sidewalk, or broken audible signal; you can help someone fix the problem.  Advocacy is key, and whether you are contacting your local city government or communicating directly the traffic engineering folks, don’t hesitate to have a voice in your community. Simply documenting the travel challenge and/or photographing it can help traffic engineers understand the problem and help them resolve it more quickly.
  • Connect with others: Get in touch with your local blindness consumer group The American Council of the Blind (ACB) or The National Federation of the Blind (NFB), where you can talk with other blind residents in your community who can help you advocate to your city or county leadership about pedestrian safety and the needs of blind and visually impaired travelers. The American Council of the Blind also published a Pedestrian Safety Handbook) which is a great resource for working with your local government agencies on pedestrian safety issues.

These are but a few tips to get you started on your path towards being a safe, proactive, and proud commuter in your neighborhood, city, and state. Finally, it’s always a good idea to communicate challenges and successes to a Certified Orientation & Mobility Instructor.  If you have a visual impairment and want to find Orientation and Mobility services in your state, you can search the ConnectCenter’s Directory of Services:  Just select Travel/Orientation and Mobility as your category and search by State/Province.  If you are an Orientation & Mobility instructor check out APH Press’s O&M resources .