Don’t Be Left Home Alone, Develop Winter-Weather Orientation and Mobility Skills

A snow-covered path cuts through the woods.

Northerners with recent vision loss, southerners with upcoming vacations in winter wonderland, and curious Floridians want to know, “How do you O&M in the snow?!”

You’re likely quite nervous about getting around in upcoming frosty, or worse, icy, conditions. Don’t let the snow keep you cooped up or completely dependent on sighted help… It’s time to acquire winter Orientation and Mobility (O&M) skills!

So, experts, what tips, tricks, and guidance do you have for those who are planning to travel in the frigid air, snow, and/or ice?

My research (much of which is found on General Orientation and Mobility Winter Travel and Working with Walkers and Wheelchairs on the Royal Cheshire Homes website), suggests the following:

  • Use a fiberglass cane instead of aluminum, as there are no joints which freeze in the (miserably) cold air.
  • Use a broad cane tip when gliding the cane over snow; alternatively, use a narrow cane tip if you prefer to poke the cane into the snow for additional feedback.
  • To minimize any slipping, wear boots designed for icy weather or add “trax” to your shoes.
  • Unless absolutely necessary, avoid covering your ears for warmth, as you will lose auditory feedback as you travel. Consider, instead, a warm “beanie”.
  • Be prepared for intense glare reflecting from the snow by using absorptive sunglasses and a brimmed hat or visor.
  • Light snow requires a light-handed cane technique; packed snow and ice requires a substantial, heavy-handed cane technique.
  • As landmarks may be difficult to decipher because they are covered in snow, and sound will be muted where snow abounds, be prepared to rely on additional mobility tools such as a GPS.
  • To receive optimal feedback while still keeping hands warm, consider adapting your mittens or wearing a tube-shaped wrap over each hand instead of gloves.
  • In a particularly icy area, you may need a support cane.
  • Ask a passerby for sighted guide around icy patches.
  • Have the capability to call for a taxi or uber if conditions are worse than anticipated.

The following tips are for visually impaired and sighted travelers alike:

  • Remember to leave extra time when traveling in the snow.
  • Dress appropriately in warm, moisture-wicking layers.
  • If possible, choose your route and departure time based on when the snow is cleared.

Lastly, winter O&M skills are certainly more advanced than warm weather skills. Ensure you are a proficient warm weather traveler before independently traveling in the snow and ice.

More Orientation and Mobility Advice for Winter

Traveling with Your Cane in Winter Weather

Mobility in the Snow for People Who Are Visually Impaired: The Art of Travel on Hidden Landscape

Winter Safety Checklist