My friend and I were talking the other day and they asked me how I had learned to navigate the hallways of my school before I started using a blindness cane- read more about my cane in my post for White Cane Day 2016 here. I learned many different orientation and mobility techniques on my own, and still use many of these techniques for navigating my college campus- read more about navigating college campuses here. Today, I will be sharing my tips for navigating school hallways, both with and without a cane.
Look at the walls
My first high school had several colorful murals that lined the walls of the hallways. Each mural was distinctive, so I learned to figure out where my classes were- for example, I knew that my math class was on the hallway with pink and orange swirls. If your school isn’t as colorful, look for other items such as locker colors, posters with distinctive colors, or large windows.
A note on lockers
Speaking of locker colors, make sure your locker is in a location that is easy to find as well, so that you aren’t stuck wandering around. My locker was always on the lower level and had a padlock instead of a combination lock, so I could easily distinguish it. Students can also add tactile dots or painter’s tape to make their locker even easier to find. Read more about my locker and accommodations here.
Watch out for obstacles
There have been many times that I have accidentally run into trash cans in the middle of the hallway or walked straight into a pole. I wish I could say that my cane has eliminated these instances from occurring, but the knocked over garbage can outside my programming class suggests otherwise. Learn to watch for obstacles and familiarize yourself with where they are located.
Create a tactile map
While I never did this for myself, I have used a tactile diagram I created using craft materials to show a student how to get around at my college and navigate an unfamiliar building. It helps that this student has very strong orientation and mobility skills, but the system worked well. Learn more about creating tactile graphics here.
Have a teacher walk with you
My band director knew that I got lost fairly easily, so they would frequently walk me to my nearby classes so I didn’t end up somehow accidentally walking in the parking lot of the fire station next door- yes, this happened, and more than once. I never felt embarrassed walking with them, or any of my teachers. My teachers never made a big deal of it either, and we would just hold a casual conversation as we walked.
Know where to find staff members
At my middle school, there were staff members that always stood in the same area of the hallway. I remember one of my teachers explained the location of these staff members to the entire class, so I didn’t feel like I was being singled out. These staff members also got to know me fairly quickly and would come to me if I seemed a bit lost.
Get a tour before school starts
Most schools offer a new student open house that gives students an opportunity to learn where their classes are. There are also designated students that give tours to transfer students and show them where to go, which is really helpful. IEP case managers may also provide a similar tour, but mine did not. It really helps to familiarize yourself with the school layout before classes start so you know where each hallway goes.
Find a human guide
At my second high school, one of my friends would walk me to all of my classes, because our classes were close together and my friend was naturally amazing at helping me navigate. I never had to ask the teacher to help me find a guide or anything like that, my friend was just naturally willing to help. If you aren’t as fortunate to have a friend that can help, ask a teacher for assistance in finding someone.
Don’t be embarrassed
There will be days that you might end up horribly lost or that students will make fun of you. Laugh off these incidents, and remember that students will forget about them in a day or so. If teasing persists, don’t be afraid to get a teacher or guidance counselor involved- read more about how great guidance counselors are here. The first few weeks are always the most difficult when learning to navigate an unfamiliar place. Have no fear though, you will soon learn your school hallways, and people might even come to you for directions!