What a Long Strange Trip It Was: The Importance of Getting Back to Basics

Joe Strechay, using his iPhone

Yes, I did just reference the Grateful Dead in the title of this post, as I am definitely a fan. I wrote a post recently about how I use my iPhone and apps in many aspects of my life. I was using it last night to take notes on a project that I was reading through on my computer, while sitting on a bed with technology on my lap and all around me. Picture a guy with ear buds running to two different devices at all times. That’s pretty much how I spend most of my life.

I was traveling to a meeting the other day in one of the five boroughs of New York City, one that rhymes with Crooklyn. (I’m not that creative.) I decided that I needed to learn how to get there, so I got some advice from my twin brother, used some websites, and I got my basic route down. I traveled a total of three hours each way with a train, two subway lines, two states, three boroughs, a nice walk, and a partridge in a pear tree (actually, there was no partridge in a pear tree, but I digress), with my basic directions in my phone’s email.

I took a NJ Transit train into New York City’s Penn Station, which takes about 1 hour and 20 minutes from where I was staying. I worked via my phone on the ride in, and I noticed my battery was around 50 percent by the time I reached Penn Station. I use it a lot. I took the E train uptown to Queens and transferred to the G train, which took me to Brooklyn. A little bit of trivia for you: The G is the only subway line that doesn’t touch Manhattan in New York City. Once I got off the train, I had some directions, but I figured I should just use my iPhone’s GPS capabilities. I put in the address, created the route, and started the directions. It said it would only take about 15 or 20 minutes. Well, I realized that it really wasn’t that accurate as I walked through the area. It would catch up every once in a while, but it got me off track a bit. It had me at least a city block and a half off of the correct street. It also froze up a bit along the route. I had my phone in my shirt pocket on my chest, and I could hear it with the sound turned up.

When it came down to it, I really had to use my orientation and mobility skills. I had to take the time to ask pedestrians in the area for directions. No matter how important technology is in our lives, we also have to be skilled in basic blindness skills. I had to use my white cane, think, ask questions, and be able to problem solve when things went astray. I can tell you I know the easiest route from the train station to that location, but it took a few mistakes and some understanding.

I was really putting a lot of faith in my iPhone and GPS because time was short, but it ended up taking me longer than just following the directions I had prior. I consider myself a pretty good blind traveler—maybe even awesome. I know I am no Siham, a friend of mine with whom I worked in New Jersey, as she is probably the best traveler that I have met. Another friend, Don C., and I used to say that she could travel with a pencil instead of a cane. Her orientation and ability to use her environment is amazing. She had a great cane technique, too.

All of which is to say, it’s so important to make sure that you keep your basic blindness skills up. I could tell you my braille reading skills are a bit embarrassing now. I use it quite practically, but I really need to get it back up. I use technology to access anything longer than a sign for the most part. I use my labeling strategies and systems all of the time. I wouldn’t know what I was wearing on a business trip or at home if I didn’t. I use all of the basic skills on a daily basis; it is a necessity for being successful in life and work. All of these basic skills come from training provided by professionals, such teachers of children who are blind or visually impaired, rehabilitation teachers or therapists, orientation and mobility instructors, and rehabilitation counselors. I would not be who I am today without the impact of all of these types of professionals making a difference for me and so many others.

You can find out how to protect specialized services and learn about technology that will not let you down through AFB’s AccessWorld, our free online technology magazine. You can also access this blog from your iPhone or iPod Touch by downloading the free CareerConnect App in the Apple App Store. Keep your basic skills up to par, and don’t depend so much on your technology that you miss your turn and end up a block and a half from your destination in temperatures around 90 degrees. Just sayin’.