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Winter Travel with Vision Loss:  A Common Sense Approach

January 6, 2021 | Leave a Comment

by Eleni Gaves, COMS and Brad Blair, O&M intern

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Gear for mobility in all types of weather: boots, sun visor, white cane, backpack, sun glasses and yuks


Whether you are fully sighted, losing your vision or blind, traveling in inclement winter weather is challenging. It requires planning and adaptations. These tips and methods will help you plan safe, productive travel. Many of these tips are similar to what anyone with 20/20 vision needs to do, but with methods adapted for those with vision loss.

Tip 1: Check the Weather

Always check the weather before you leave home. Checking the forecast the day before your travels, as well as the day of your trip, is a great idea! Ways to check the weather accessibly include:


Tip 2: Budget Extra Time

If drivers can be slowed down by snow or icy roads, the same holds true for public transit. Paratransit vans and city buses deal with the same road conditions as anyone else. Commuter trains may not be quite as affected by delays, but they can happen. Additionally, you will need extra time for walking to and from your stops. So, plan to leave home early if you have an appointment that’s time sensitive.


Tip 3: Dress Appropriately

The importance of dressing appropriately cannot be overstressed. For people who use public transit, paratransit, rideshare services or taxies, this can become even more urgent because of the possibility of having to spend a significant amount of time outside waiting on the ride to arrive. Following are some tips that are unique to the traveler who is blind or visually impaired:

  • For cane users, wear gloves thick enough to keep out the cold, but thin enough so that you can still feel what the cane is doing.
  • For those who wear hats or earmuffs, try to choose head gear that doesn’t fully cover your ears so that you can listen to the environment, e.g., traffic sounds. Alternatively, plan to uncover your ears at key points on your route so that you can listen.
  • For travelers navigating with low vision, consider sunglasses on snowy days to cut down on snow glare.
  • For all winter travelers, invest in a set of ice grips, such as Yaktrax. Yaktrax fit over the bottoms of your shoes and help prevent slippage on icy surfaces.


Tip 4: Using Your Mobility Device

Whether you use a cane or guide dog, keep these tips in mind for winter travel:

  • Use a bigger cane tip so that it doesn’t get stuck as often in the snow.
  • Where snow has been cleared, use the snowbank beside you as a landmark. This way, even if more snow is falling, you have a reference point to trail and stay oriented.
  • If you have a guide dog, consider putting their shoes or booties on. Snow, ice, and especially salt, can irritate their feet and cause injury.
  • If you have a guide dog with a shorter coat or the weather is extremely cold while you have to be out, consider putting on a jacket under the dog’s duty harness.


Tip 5: Rethink your Trip

Finally, consider whether you really need to go out that day. Ask yourself questions like:

  • Can I reschedule and go to the store after the snow stops falling?
  • Can I reschedule my appointment for another day?
  • Can I accomplish the same tasks without leaving home? This is an especially relevant question during the pandemic.


Winter weather travel is a reality that everyone has to deal with. You cannot always avoid it, especially if you have to go to work. So, the best advice is to use common sense. Go slow, stay safe and get back inside as soon as possible.

Brad and Eleni are hosting a virtual workshop with more winter travel tips on Friday, January 8 at 1:00 pm CST.  To join us, call our conference line at 312-809-1004.


Eleni is the Certified Orientation and Mobility Specialist at Second Sense and Brad is Second Sense’s O&M intern

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