Learning your way around any new environment can take some practice; getting lost or turned around is a normal part of the process. When one doesn’t see at all, the process becomes even more complex, as developing a working mental map takes a lot of time and repetition. As mobility specialists, we have several strategies and tools that we employ when working to help someone blind to learn a new area. Creating one’s mental map and then using it to plan and travel routes, are the building blocks of any successful mobility training program.
First we may guide the student around the new location, discussing such pertinent facts as the space’s shape, it’s layout and the compass direction of each of it’s main features. Then we may use tactile map board like the one pictured here to help the student build a tactile representation of the space’s main features or landmarks. Occasionally we use Haptics, drawing the shape of the room on the individual’s back to help them visual the space in real-time orientation. Finally, we practice walking from place to place, describing the route prior to travel, ensuring that we check off each major landmark as we pass it. This process that many of us do daily without thinking, is critical to those who are blind, for accurately learning a new space and travelling within it independently and safely. Maybe try one day, learning a new area with no vision and see how hard it can be!