Finding Your Wheels

Editor’s note: This guest post is written by Dr. L. Penny Rosenblum of the American Foundation for the Blind

photo of aan empty road with empty land on either side.

The other day I was sharing a memory of my favorite Lyft ride with a friend from my perspective as a nondriver. It was a night I felt independent and carefree. I had gone to a movie with a friend and 10 minutes into the movie, I knew I wasn’t going to sit through 2 hours of it. My husband was watching the final four basketball game so I didn’t want to text him for a ride. I pulled out my phone and requested a Lyft. A jeep pulled up with its top down. I got in and realized that on a beautiful moonlight spring night driving around in a jeep was fun! I put in a random address and spent the next 30 minutes with the Lyft driver with the wind in my hair and enjoying the views. How freeing as a nondriver is that?

Finding Wheelsis a book Dr. Anne Corn and I authored for travelers who are teens or in their early 20s. In practical terms we talk about how to be successful as a person who doesn’t drive because of blindness/ low vision or how to go about exploring low vision driving. Though we write for travelers, we also provide information for family members and professionals. We share activities travelers can complete to build their self-knowledge and skills.

It’s important that travelers hear from others besides the authors. We have five guest authors including three individuals who share their personal perspectives. We also have created five stories of fictious travelers (Many people tell us they thought they were real people!) who each approach nondriving, or in Kendra’s case low vision driving, in a unique way. And, unique is the point here. No two travelers will use the same strategies and tools to meet their transportation needs.

As a person who is a nondriver, I often think back to my own teens and early 20s and wish I had a tool such as Finding Wheels. If I had this book, I wouldn’t have had to learn so many things the hard way! Through Finding Wheels travelers learn a lot. Let me share some examples:

  1. Who do I tell and what do I share? Especially for those for whom vision loss is new, you’re often not comfortable sharing information. The good news is that when it comes to travel you don’t typically have to share a lot. That said, you do need to convey key information. So, if you’ve requested a rideshare to meet you at the mall and you’re not going to see the vehicle pull up, then text or call the driver to alert them. You don’t have to give your life history, just the information that you don’t see well, what you’re wearing, and where you’re waiting. Ask the driver to alert you when they arrive.
  2. Have a plan and a plan B. We all know that the best laid plans sometimes don’t work. As a nondriver it’s important to have a backup plan. I have my rideshare apps loaded in my phone along with $20 tucked into my wallet for a taxi. I’ve put two local taxi companies phone numbers in my phone so if my ride doesn’t work out I can call a taxi or request a rideshare.
  3. Do your research. Whether you’re taking a trip or moving to a new community, it’s important to research your transportation options in that community. The Internet of course is a great tool for research, but I also like to reach out to others who are blind or low vision who know that community and/or an O&M specialist in that community. I also find that the Chamber of Commerce is a good resource. If I’ve done my research, then when the time comes to travel in the community I know what options I have and I’ve got all the necessary contact information in my phone.
  4. Use your smartphone as a travel tool. Besides the obvious of having a map app up and running and contacts put in your phone, there are a lot of ways your smartphone can assist you in travel. As a low vision person, I use the camera as a monocular. I also love using Reminders to let me know when to get off the bus. Check out the blog post Is This my Bus Stop?! The Reminders Appto learn how to do use this tool.
  5. Budget for travel. Just as you budget for other expenses, you need to build travel costs into your weekly or monthly budget. Whether you’re purchasing a bus pass or paying someone for a ride, travel costs money. When you use personal wheels, walking or biking, you have costs too such as sneakers, a backpack, or bike maintenance. Sometimes you can exchange with someone for travel. Let’s say you’re a musician. You can exchange a guitar lesson for a ride home from work three days a week. 
  6. Explore driving with a bioptic. If you have low vision, there is the potential that you may be able to be fitted with a bioptic, obtain your permit, learn to drive, and pass the road test. In Finding Wheels we give you information about how a bioptic is used when driving, the skills you must learn before you even get behind the wheel, and the steps many individuals go through to learn to drive. Don’t assume you can drive with low vision, but at the same time if you meet the visual requirements don’t assume you can’t learn to drive. Take time to do your research and inform yourself.

Blog posts are limited to 1,000 words, so I can’t keep going with ideas to share. I hope you’ll use Finding Wheels as a tool to help you maximize your independence as a traveler who is blind or low vision. There’s lots of places to go and things to do!