I’ve lived in a few different places in Virginia as well as in Washington State, and something that each of these places have had in common is that I’ve had to deal with power outages a few times a year for various reasons. Whether it’s hurricane season in Virginia or if someone accidentally destroyed the power lines near the house in Washington, I’ve come up with a few different strategies for navigating during power outages with low vision in a few different settings, including houses, apartments, dorms, and even hotels. Here are my tips for dealing with power outages and low vision in a few different contexts.
Learn how to report outages
While living in Washington, I had to report a few different power outages that affected the street I was on, some of which weren’t related to weather- for example, construction on a nearby building triggered a power outage for a handful of houses. I had the power company’s phone number programmed into my phone so my roommates and I could easily contact them.
When living on a college campus, I would report power outages to building maintenance or the neighborhood desk first, since it was not unheard of for power outages to only affect a handful of rooms or buildings. If they didn’t answer, I would contact the power company directly.
- How To Set Up Emergency Alerts For On-Campus Students
- Blindness Canes and Campus Addresses: Navigating College Campuses
Open windows or add other environmental light
I have trouble navigating in the dark due to low vision, so I try to add additional environmental lighting if the power goes out by opening the windows, turning on a lantern or other portable light, or clipping a flashlight to a stand so it can illuminate the room. When the power went out in a hotel I was staying in during my internship, emergency lights were distributed by the front desk staff and I was told to stay in my room.
Use wearable lighting tools
One of my friends has a head lamp for emergency lighting, which makes it easier for them to evacuate with a blindness cane- having a wearable light means that they still have one free hand, while the other hand holds onto the cane. Blindness canes are reflective, so others will be able to see them, but most canes do not give off light otherwise.
Turn off overhead lights
When the power is being restored, lights may flicker on and off repeatedly, which can be disorienting for people with photophobia or photosensitivity. If the power goes out, I will turn off the overhead lights in my environment, and keep a light on in the bathroom or closet with the door cracked so that I can tell when the power comes back on.
- Tips For Living In Transitional/Emergency Housing In College
- How To Make A Dorm Room Completely Dark
Sign up for emergency alerts
Residents may be notified of planned or unplanned power outages through emergency alert systems, which may be issued through a college system or through the city/county. For people living in a building such as a dorm or apartment, some places will send out email alerts for planned outages so residents can plan ahead.
- How To Set Up Emergency Alerts For On-Campus Students
- How To Store Emergency Medical Information For Android and iOS
Keep items out of walkways
When I was living in the dorm and in intern housing, I would make sure that I always kept walkways free of obstacles so that I wouldn’t trip over them in the dark. This is especially helpful if the fire alarm goes off and someone has to evacuate quickly- I have a post about tips for what to pack when evacuating a dorm linked below.
- What To Pack When Evacuating A Dorm
- How To Handle Medical Emergencies In A Dorm
- Blindness Canes and Dorm Buildings: Navigating College Campuses
Call to confirm if nearby locations have power
I had to go to the DMV for a TSA Pre-Check appointment in a neighboring town when my college had a power outage, and I didn’t realize that the DMV also didn’t have power until I showed up for my appointment and discovered the office was closed. Conversely, another time I called one of my friends and didn’t think to mention the power outage until I heard their TV in the background and realized they had electricity. Since I can’t tell if a place has electricity just by looking at it from the outside, it can be helpful to call in advance.
Travel with a human guide
During a power outage, there may be power lines on the ground, a large amount of debris, or road closures that can impact travel. For this reason, I recommend traveling with a human guide that can provide real-time information about surroundings, and help with avoiding tripping hazards.
- How To Be An Effective Human Guide For People With Vision Loss
- How Do People With Visual Impairments Guide Each Other?
Have a no-tech way to identify essential items
While I am normally all in favor of using high tech tools and applications to identify items, I strongly recommend having a back-up solution that does not require high tech tools. This can include adding large print or tactile labels to food and medication, or consistently storing items in the same area.
Some of my friends and I take medication that has to be refridgerated, and typically store it in a mini-fridge away from the main food items. If the power goes out, I will open the fridge and store the medication in a cooler bag with ice packs so that I can access it more easily, and replenish the cooling bag with additional ice packs when available.
Going somewhere else
There have been a few instances where I got advance notice of potential power outages, such as when severe snowstorms and hurricanes were coming to my college. In these instances, my friends and I would find ways to get off-campus and head to a safer area- this could mean going home to parents, visiting friends or family in a nearby town, or traveling somewhere else. Since my parents live a few hours away, they would come get me from campus, or my brother would drive home.
When I lived in intern housing, I called friends who lived nearby and asked if I could come stay at their house, and my mentor had also offered to help me find a place to stay if needed. Thankfully, my friends were happy to let me come stay with them- and since they had electricity, we got to make crepes for breakfast!
Other tips for dealing with power outages with low vision
- For students who live on campus, ResLife/dorm staff will distribute bottled water and food in case of extended power outages, as well as provide further instructions if needed
- Turn devices on airplane mode or battery saving mode to conserve battery- note that incoming calls/texts may not go through if the device is on airplane mode
- When there was a power outage at work, employees were told to make their way to the hallway so that there was more lighting. This also made it easier when the fire alarm went off and we had to evacuate- there were already people in the hall that could serve as a human guide.
- Professors will grant extensions if there is a power outage before a due date or during an exam, but students will need to email them to let them know what is going on