Veronica With Four Eyes

Walking In The Rain: College O&M

Shortly before my second year of college, I received a few orientation and mobility lessons for learning how to navigate with low vision and a blindness cane. These lessons were helpful for learning general travel skills, but I noticed they didn’t get into specifics about navigating college campuses or using university resources available for students with vision loss. One lesson that would have been really helpful is tips for using a blindness cane in the rain and how to get around campus when it’s pouring rain, so I’ve created the College O&M series to share my most-used tips and strategies for learning about this topic and others. Here are my tips for walking in the rain on my college campus as a student with low vision who uses a blindness cane.

Using a marshmallow/roller tip cane

Since 2017, I have almost exclusively used marshmallow/roller tip canes when walking on my college campus, and have found this style of cane with the constant contact method to be preferable over using a pencil tip cane or different methods. This is because constant contact allows me to figure out where puddles are, and more importantly alert to obstacles that I might not otherwise notice due to decreased visibility from the rain.

This is a personal preference, but I also prefer to use my bright yellow and red blindness cane when walking in the rain, as it is easier for cars to see the cane when I am crossing the street. This isn’t to say that my white cane isn’t reflective enough, but the yellow works especially well.

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Why I don’t use an umbrella

There are areas of my college that can feel like a wind tunnel, especially when it is raining, so most students do not use umbrellas when walking to class since it’s easy for umbrellas to get damaged. Another thing to factor in is that having an umbrella in one hand and a blindness cane in the other can leave someone with no free hands, which can be both challenging and dangerous since someone could easily fall down. For this reason, it’s better to have a rain jacket with a hood instead of trying to balance an umbrella.

On a more humorous note, when I first started using a blindness cane, I tried all sorts of different methods to balance an umbrella and my cane at the same time. Some of these methods included creating an umbrella holder in my backpack so I could hold the umbrella over my head, buying an umbrella hat, and even walking with an umbrella and my cane at the same time. None of these options worked out particularly well- the umbrella almost flew out of my backpack in a wind storm, the umbrella hat looked ridiculous, and in a moment of confusion, I was tapping my umbrella on the ground while holding my blindness cane straight up in the air. Not a good look!

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Wear rain boots or shoes with traction

One time during the first semester of my freshman year of college,  my friend and I got caught in a torrential downpour when walking back from class, and I almost slipped multiple times when trying to walk in the rain because my shoes didn’t have the best traction. I got back to my dorm and noticed that I looked like I had just fallen in a pool, and I needed to make sure that my rain boots were in an easy-to-locate location for the future.

After that experience, I have never taken my rain boots for granted again, and they are very important for being able to walk safely when it’s raining or very wet.

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Using alternative transportation

Another thing I learned after getting caught in the torrential downpour was that my college has a bus system that features a campus shuttle that I could use to get to central points on campus. While it wouldn’t completely protect me from having to walk in the rain, knowing where the campus shuttle stops were helped me to at least avoid walking part of my route in the rain.

Students who are blind or that have low vision may also be approved for disability transportation services at their college. Disability transportation services allow for students and staff with documented short-term or long-term disabilities to have access to door-to-door transportation between their dorm and other buildings on campus as needed. The exact method of transportation varies between colleges, though my college uses golf carts driven by student employees. Each college has different rules for how, when, and where students can schedule rides, but it’s an extremely helpful service.

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Asking for a security escort

In another incident during my freshman year, my friend and I got caught in a flash flood on campus, and my friend did not feel comfortable serving as a human guide for me, since they thought we both would get injured. We ended up contacting campus security and asked if we could have one of the security officers escort us back to our building, either by foot or by car. Because I have low vision, they ended up sending a car for us and they drove us back to the building, though they can also send officers to walk students by foot to their destination.

It’s worth noting that campus security officers are not to be treated as a method of alternative transportation or as an alternative to human guides, though they are definitely a very helpful resource if a student gets stuck in severe weather or if it is unsafe to walk somewhere.

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Can blindness canes be used in thunderstorms?

Short answer- no!

Most blindness canes are made out of some form of metal, so they are not safe to have out during thunderstorms that have lightning. Since it’s near impossible to predict whether a given storm will have lightning or not, it’s better to play it safe and not use a cane.

Still need to get things done on campus but can’t go outside? Some alternative options for getting tasks accomplished on campus from inside include:

  • Getting in touch with the professor and asking to attend class virtually/over video chat
  • Using a human guide and/or alternative transportation to get to a building
  • Requesting food for delivery- the dining hall may be able to help arrange this
  • Using virtual resources through the campus library
  • Having study groups on a virtual meeting platform

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Summary of tips for using a blindness cane in the rain

  • Use a roller tip cane or a cane that can provide good feedback
  • If possible, use a raincoat instead of an umbrella so that you have a free hand, and wear rain boots
  • Use alternative transportation to get around campus, such as a bus or disability transportation service
  • If a situation seems particularly dangerous, get in contact with campus security
  • Do not use a blindness cane in a thunderstorm, as canes are made of metal

Here are my tips for walking in the rain on a college campus, from a student with low vision who uses a blindness cane