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The dark side

The dark winter nights are well and truly on us. Below, a visually impaired friend of Visibility Scotland shares their experience of negotiating the dark evenings with sight loss; they outline some of the challenges and the things that can help. Read on to find out more.

The dark side

Nights are indeed drawing in and as much as I hate to admit it, so is my confidence when walking in the darkness.

As much as I love being all wrapped up in a cosy hat and scarf and going for big long winter walks, I’m always mindful to get home before dark. Sometimes that means home for 3pm!

When that black carpet descends, my anxieties shoot to the stars, and I just have to hope that the dazzling oncoming car headlights don’t appear.

The world in the dark is a pretty scary and treacherous place, especially when you’ve got a visual impairment. Things you don’t even think about in the light can be alarming in the dark; familiar landmarks disappear, street signs (if you could see them in the first place) are just big black shadows and kerbs creep up out of nowhere. Sometimes the kerbs can lead you directly onto the road. And don’t get me started on uneven pavements!

I could tell a million stories of how I have fallen over, tripped up or got lost. Being visually impaired often means that you have to be resilient and accepting, but why should night travel be so challenging. I have equal rights to shared space, don’t I?

Pavements should be even, and light should be bright and evenly spread. Not an outrageous request, or is it?

Only last week I skipped along the road on my way to get a train and just as darkness fell I unconsciously jumped into a massive puddle. It was nearly knee-deep!! Not only was I embarrassed, I was also upset that I had not noticed the puddle. If my foot had not been so wet, I would have kicked myself!

I am not a negative person by nature, but I want to shine a warning light on the things that are not helpful in the dark!

Poor street lighting

In a bid to be more energy-efficient my local authority changed the street lights. A small suggestion; increase street lighting by using LED bulbs. And ensure all climate communication is accessible! This will allow everyone to make climate conscious changes.

In the dark, that helpful lamppost that provides the light may become the hidden danger. In low light, I am very likely to walk straight into the invisible static object, ouch!

Trains and buses not announcing stops

Like I said before landmarks look so different in the dark and windows can be dirty or steamed. Simple solution; declare the approaching stop!

Potholes and uneven surfaces

They aren’t great for anyone but on a dark night they are an invisible menace and they will take you down! Come on council, fix the pavements! If I fall and break a bone then I will really need help, medical help!

Other people

It’s hard negotiating the world. People moving, holes in the pavement and poor lighting just don’t help. While I would like to say that the general public understands and empathises when I walk into them or stumble on their dog, the stark reality is that most people don’t.

Having a symbol cane be really useful as it lets others know you’re not just being rude when you bump or knock into them. I know there are mixed opinions about wearing things like the sunflower lanyard, but these sorts of symbols do alert people (who can see them) to hidden disabilities.

The Scottish winter can mean it’s dark all day! So what am I supposed to do, hibernate! If only it was that easy.

Shining a light on the positives 

I’ve talked about about some of the challenges of getting around when the evenings are dark, but what about the things that can help?

Good lighting

It would be great to wave a magic light-wand and have illuminating streetlights and park lighting. It makes getting about so much easier and far less scary. If you don’t have good street lighting in your area, it’s always good to let your local authority know why it doesn’t work for you.

I have the brightest security light in my street and I love it! The light comes on to welcome me home and illuminates the path, doorstep and keyhole.

Having some good lighting inside your home works well too especially when the amount of daylight is massively reduced.
There are some amazing and surprisingly affordable task lamps out there that you can bring over to you when reading, writing or doing anything crafty.

Having a voice

Sometimes speaking out is hard and can be very daunting. But your voice is not just for you, your thoughts could empower or support millions.

Speaking with others who ‘get it’

I have an amazing circle of friends who are incredibly supportive but there’s just something special and empowering about chatting to other people who face the same challenges. It makes me think “phew, thank goodness that it’s not just me”.

Sometimes the worries and fears I have about being visually impaired build up in my head. I don’t always feel like speaking about them in everyday situations, but if I know I have an outlet through speaking to others who are experiencing the same, it’s a massive help. A problem shared is a problem halved.

I have experienced good advice from visually impaired peers on how to overcome so many daily hurdles. I have learnt emotional strategies, I have met new friends and I’m often the first to hear about cool new bits of tech, equipment and apps via the support group.

Visual impairment support organisations can offer opportunities to link in with others in similar circumstances. Sharing experiences can help you feel less alone and can also help to influence positive change.

Revisiting mobility

Sometimes it’s a great idea to ask for a top-up session from your mobility officer, if you have one. If you don’t have a rehabilitation officer then you must speak to your local Sensory Impairment Team. We all fall into bad habits, so getting a refresher can ensure you’re doing what you should be in terms of keeping safe when out and about.

Aids and equipment

I love the feeling of getting something new, be it a new magnifier, or a piece of tech. I walk away with my new bit of kit knowing I will absolutely use it every day, only to find it in a cupboard or handbag months later!

The truth is these things can and will help. Using a magnifier or monocular to read timetables, bus numbers and train destinations is a massive help. The inbuilt magnifier on your phone is great too but I’m always terrified of running out of battery!

If you have a cane, use it! It can help when there are uneven surfaces or changes in depth and, like I’ve already said, it lets others know you have a visual impairment.

Being determined

Yes, I worry, and yes there are challenges and having a visual impairment adds to them. But despite what comes my way, and whatever state I am in, be it having wet feet, bedraggled hair after an encounter with an overhanging bush, or even if I’m a stop or two further away than I’d like to be, I always try hard not to let it put me off doing what I want to do. I have tried both scenarios and personally, I will take the wet feet and social escapes with the people I love over staying indoors with dry feet any day!

Image of Natasha Johnston
Written by: Natasha Johnston

Posted on the: December 3, 2021
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