Veronica With Four Eyes

Walking In The Snow: 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 how to walk in the snow, 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 snowstorms and walking in the snow with a blindness cane, from a student with low vision who lives in Virginia

What cane should I use in the snow?

Marshmallow tip canes are great for walking through the snow as it allows users to create a path for themselves in the snow, though it does not work well for large amounts of snow as it can get stuck in drifts and may not easily slide over the snow- this isn’t an issue for me as I don’t typically encounter large amounts of snow and I stick to paved areas. I prefer to use my rolling ball tip cane when there are large amounts of snow as it rolls much easier, though it isn’t as good at detecting changes between snow and ice.

For students that live in much more snowy areas, the Dakota disk tip is a great solution for walking in the snow with a blindness cane, though I have not personally tried it since it doesn’t snow a lot here.

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Get food in advance

One of my most valuable tips for students navigating the snow with a blindness cane is to limit trips outside as much as possible, which includes getting food in advance before it snows to limit dining hall trips. It’s worth noting that in extreme weather, many colleges will distribute food to students if they can’t go outside, though it’s better to be prepared and get food ahead of time- I like to bring reusable containers and grab items such as pizza, cold sandwiches, and yogurt to keep in my room.

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Recognize that snow may muffle sounds

I didn’t realize when I first walked outside in the snow that sounds might be muffled due to the snow, and that it might be harder to hear cars that are coming. One of the most valuable tips I received from a friend who also has low vision is to avoid wearing earmuffs or things that cover the ears, as this can limit hearing even more, and instead to opt for wearing a warm beanie or another type of hat.

Dress for the snow

Besides making sure that the ears are not completely blocked off, there are other ways that people can dress warmly when using a blindness cane in the snow. This can include:

  • Wearing warm clothing in layers
  • Having sunglasses that can help with minimizing the sun’s reflection from the snow
  • Putting on shoes that have adequate traction, like boots
  • Wearing gloves that keep the fingers exposed, so that users can still have a blindness cane

I have an entire post about how to dress for the snow and stay warm with a blindness cane linked below.

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Use a human guide

Walking on campus in the snow can be very challenging, and whenever possible I recommend traveling with a human guide so that they can alert to potential obstacles that the cane might not pick up on otherwise. Since my college typically shuts down disability transportation services and bus services if there is snow on the ground, traveling with a human guide is my best option for getting to where I need to go.

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Talk to the university about alternative routes to buildings

Sometimes, snow will close down roads or parts of campus unexpectedly, so it’s helpful to talk to the school environmental safety office or disability services about how to get to buildings if popular routes are closed. It’s also helpful to figure out which paths have been shoveled/plowed and to stick to those paths for optimal safety.

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Check that the dorm is secure

Since students who live on-campus will likely be trapped in their dorms anyway, it helps to make sure that the dorm is properly secured for severe weather or other potential emergencies. For me, this includes:

  • Checking that windows are completely closed
  • Securing valuable items in plastic containers in case a pipe bursts
  • Making sure that the sink is turned on to keep the pipes from freezing,  if relevant
  • Having a backpack or duffel bag within easy reach in case the dorm has to be evacuated
  • Locating a flashlight or other items in case the power goes out

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Attend classes remotely, if possible

Most of my classes end up being canceled if there is snow outside, but for the few classes that are not canceled, I typically ask my professors if I can attend class remotely, as I don’t want to get stuck on the other side of campus or fall into a giant pile of snow- something that happened to me freshman year. For students who are more comfortable with navigating snow, I recommend using a human guide to get to class or requesting disability transportation services when available.

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Summary of using a blindness cane to navigate snow on campus

  • Use a blindness cane with a tip that has a large surface area
  • Get food in advance to minimize trips outside
  • Snow can muffle sounds- keep ears uncovered when possible
  • Dress for the snow with warm layers, gloves, and shoes
  • Use a human guide when  traveling outside, if possible
  • Take note of alternative routes to buildings
  • Check that the dorm room is secure and safe to be in
  • Attend classes remotely, when possible

Here is how I handle snow on my college campus and tips for walking in the snow with a blindness cane and low vision