How Do People With Low Vision…Walk in the Rain?

Last year, my friend and I were getting ready to walk back to our dorms after public speaking class. I looked down at my phone and saw that there was a 10% chance of rain, and alerted my friend before we began our walk back. Turns out, my phone had cut off a zero, there was actually a 100% chance of rain, and it would be a downpour. By the time I got back to my dorm, I was completely soaked. One of my friends video called me when I got back into my dorm, and asked me if I had put on clothes straight out of the washing machine or taken a shower while still wearing my clothes.
At the time, I was new to the college environment and had just recently started using a blindness cane full time. I had trouble using an umbrella because I would sometimes involuntarily lower it and start tapping it like a cane while I held my blindness cane in the air (a puzzling sight to behold). Instead of sitting in my dorm all day, here are ways that I handle rainy days.

Roller tip cane

At the time of the first downpour, I had been using a pencil tip cane that didn’t give me very good feedback. It was always a surprise when I stepped in a puddle. Now that I have a roller tip cane, also known as a marshmallow tip, I am able to detect puddles more quickly. In rainy weather, I keep my cane directly in front of me and use a smaller range of motion than normal.

Carrying your own umbrella

When I first started using a cane, I would hold an umbrella in the hand I normally would use my cane for. As a result, I would involuntarily tap my umbrella on the ground and hold my cane in the air. Since then, I developed a way to balance my umbrella without actively holding it. I put my backpack on and then put the umbrella holder either inside a pocket in the backpack or I put it between the shoulder strap and my shoulder, like shown below.

Umbrella tucked in backpack strap
Umbrella in backpack strap
Umbrella inside backpack pocket
Umbrella inside backpack- this is inside the second laptop compartment.

Shoes with traction

Ideally, wear rain boots that have traction so that you can feel the different textures on the ground and avoid slipping. Do NOT wear Crocs or similar shoes that are waterproof but have no traction on the bottom. Also, make sure the bottoms of your shoes can dry easily, as you can still slip and fall indoors if your shoes are wet.

Ask a friend for help

When I’m walking with a friend, I walk under their umbrella and ask them to be a human guide, so I can avoid hitting them multiple times with my cane. I just grab onto their arm and walk slightly behind them so they can alert me to giant puddles or other hazards ahead.

Wearable umbrella

One of my friends with low vision bought an umbrella hat so they don’t have to worry about balancing anything and can just focus on their cane. I thought this was a really creative idea and while I am yet to try it, mostly because of the constantly windy weather on campus, I am including it because it seems to work really well for them.

Leave extra time for destinations

For me, I usually allow an extra five minutes to get somewhere if it’s raining. Since I walk slower than normal because of the reduced motion of my cane and the rain/fog on my glasses, it will take me longer to get places.  I let teachers know about this on the first day of class and send an email right before I leave my dorm.

Find alternative transportation

One time, I was set to give a student a tour of campus when suddenly, it started pouring rain. Trying to think fast, I used the school campus shuttle to show them around, since all of the classrooms on campus are within a short walk of the bus stops. This wound up working very well, and I’ve used the school transportation when I have to walk halfway across campus in pouring rain.

In case of lightning

This may seem very obvious, but one time I ran out with my blindness cane in a lightning storm. Despite having routinely terrible luck, I somehow wasn’t injured. If there is a forecast for lightning, arrange for a human guide or ask to have class remotely. I keep food in my dorm room for cases like this, but if for some reason you are without food, inquire about getting it delivered. DO NOT GO OUTSIDE WITH A CANE WHEN THERE IS LIGHTNING. If you are outside and see lightning, run into the nearest building and call campus security immediately for an escort.

Flash floods

These aren’t much of a problem at my school, but back in high school, my friend and I wound up watching a parking lot flood before we had to try and get in their truck.  It may seem tempting to run, but don’t!  Instead, walk slowly and use your cane to determine the depth of the water and how wide the area is.  Use a human guide and ask them to help you get to safety.  If it begins to get difficult, move over to the nearest building or shelter and call campus security.  I would recommend carrying a few paper towels with you in case you wind up in this situation, as wet canes can be very frustrating to work with.

If you are stuck

If you have slipped in a puddle or the rain is coming down so hard you can’t see, call campus security and let them know you are a student with low vision/blindness and are unable to get to your destination, and that you are injured or in danger of being injured. They will send down a police car to escort you to your apartment safely. In cases like this, I usually call my professor and let them know the situation, and attend class remotely over FaceTime or by phone.
If you are ever in doubt over whether it is safe to walk outside with a cane, call the campus safety office or campus security. While they can’t tell you directly whether to skip class or not, they can let you know if it is better to use alternate methods to get to class. Talking to your professor is also helpful, as they can tell you if it is mandatory you come to class or if you won’t be missing much. Just remember, your safety is more important than any grade.

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