How to stay safe outdoors this winter if you’re visually impaired

It’s December, that magical time of the year when we celebrate the holidays with our families and friends. For many of us, the start of winter is also the time to prepare for traveling in icy and cold conditions, especially if you or someone you know is visually impaired or blind.

Treacherous winter weather comes with many hazards, including the possibility of falling on slick, icy surfaces. It’s even more challenging as we get older and are less agile.

Each year, 2.5 million older Americans are treated in emergency departments for injuries from falls both indoors and outside. Falls are the leading cause of injury among New Yorkers over 65.

Here are some simple things you can do to keep safe while out and about this winter:

  • Draw up a plan. Get to know as much as you can about the location you’re traveling to. Check the weather, plan your route and give yourself extra time to get there.
  • Remove snow and ice. To avoid falls, ask a family member, friend or neighbor to shovel your porch, steps and pathways. Have them remove ice by using salt, cat litter or sand.
  • Keep track while traveling. Use an accessible compass or a cell phone app to keep track of your directions and location.
  • Be visible when walking. Wear brightly colored, reflective safety clothing so that drivers can see you in the dark. Put reflective tape on your cane and travel with a flashlight.
  • Wear ice and snow grips on your shoes. There are a number of products available that cover the outside of the soles of your shoes and have metal grips on the bottom for added traction when walking on snow and ice.
  • Find new landmarks and walk slowly. Snow covers landmarks such as the changes from pavement to grass. Prevent falls by relying on taller landmarks to navigate, such as bushes, fences and sign posts.
  • To uncover snow or break up ice, tap your cane harder on the ground or “touch and slide”. Use a long white cane to probe for changes like sudden inclines. On black ice, which isn’t detectable with a cane, take smaller steps than usual.
  • Limit your reliance on your guide dog in bad weather. Your dog can lose its scent in heavy snow. According to the Guide Dog Foundation, more dogs get lost during winter than at any other time of year. Dry your dog after being out in the snow. To avoid cuts and cracked pads, clean and dry your dog’s paws and rub on a little petroleum jelly.