Travelling and airports

In my 20s, when my vision was relatively good, I did the one year (1983/4) backpacking stint alone in the South Pacific visiting Hawaii, Fiji, New Zealand, Australia, Tahiti and the Cook Islands and I did not encounter too many problems because of my vision whilst travelling. I often found others in the youth hostel that were also doing my “route” and we were even going to be on the same plane so things just seemed to fall into place. I had a few contact addresses in some of the places and these contacts were only too pleased to show me around their area …. I did not have to worry about not seeing signs or getting lost whilst with them!

Today, with vision that has deteriorated drastically over the years, airports and travel in general is a real worry and challenge for me if travelling by myself. The night before a trip via an airport is usually one of restless sleep! I divide my trip from home to the airport and final destination into segments and can thus get a sense of satisfaction when each segment has been successfully completed and checked off.

I have now acquired a white cane and airports are one of the few places that I actually use it in order to get assistance. I must admit, it did not give the immediate help that I thought it would! Friends have told me that it is not obvious that I have a visual impairment as I always walk briskly and with determination from point A to point B (but would never see any friend along the way!). In other words, people seem to mistrust me using a white cane!

OK, so I could ask for assistance when I book my flight but then maybe you tend to be molly-coddled and I like to wander around a bit by myself …. can usually manage to find the toilets by following women who stride off with determination into a side corridor! I often ask other travellers who are looking up at the departure board to help me to find my gate number and I have always received the best of help and a smile. I usually ask them to point out the direction I should walk to get to the gate and then ask someone else once I have entered the gate area …. in other words, when in doubt, ask, ask, ask! Once I asked some British Airways ground staff if I had come to the right gate and received real “royal” treatment …. allowed to sneak behind barriers to a closer toilet, led to the plane and given priority seating …. sometimes such treatment is SO welcome.

However, I sometimes wonder what type of education airline staff have been given with regard to the visually impaired – or maybe they were off sick that day! At Heathrow, with my white cane very visible, I politely asked a British Airways gal if she could just tell me what gate my flight would be leaving from, to which she replied check on the board later! I politely told her that I could not see the board and that was why I was asking her. I think she then did realise her mistake and said if I stood by her desk she could tell me as soon as the gate was shown – which she did but that was the abrupt end of the assistance!

I usually ear-mark a few passengers on the same flight and then follow them (closely!) to passport control and baggage reclaim once at our final destination. I have a suitcase with a very large first letter of my surname stencilled on it so I can easily see it on the carousel.

So, do you use a white cane? Do you have any tips and tricks when travelling alone? Any airports that are a nightmare for the visually impaired?! Please share with us! :)

Top 10 Stargardts frustrations?

I have now lived with having Stargardt’s Disease for about 44 years! Those of us with Stargardt’s have differing visual acuities and I have no idea of what mine is right now, but maybe we share the same visual frustrations? The other day I was contemplating my top 10 frustrations about having limited vision because of Stargardts. I appreciate that many of these are also frustrations for those who have limited vision because of some other eye problem. This is the list that I came up with but I found it too hard to rank them from 1 to 10.

Because of my limited vision due to Stargardt’s, I am NOT able:
– to have eye contact with people (unless they are REALLY close!)
– to drive
– to recognise people that pass by in the street
– to “walk tall with confidence”, always fearful of unseen obstacles in my way!
– to “see” what people say. One has to listen more intently as the added “extra” of being able to see what people say across a table/room does not exist.
– to feel totally confortable about international travel by myself. Airports are a very stressful place for me when travelling alone!
– to fully enjoy watching or participating in any ball sports
– to read a book (but have adjusted to listening to books)
– to see bus numbers, signs for toilets, street names, house numbers, destination boards at stations etc.
– to see/read price tags on clothes, food etc.
The last two frustrations are lessened by the use of various magnifiers … but are still frustrations!

With regard to the first frustration on the list (I am NOT able to have eye contact with people), when I talk to a person across the table/room I obviously try to have eye contact and I think I am looking directly at them but, in fact, I am using my peripheral vision so therefore NOT looking directly at them – and they in turn look BEHIND them to see WHO I am talking to! This is a pure Stargardts frustration due to my obscured/loss of central vision. This really gets me down at times and tends to make me avoid actually trying to do this …. but, as everyone knows, one can be judged as being offish, shy, hiding something, impolite and/or insecure if you avoid eye contact with people.

Other frustrations include:
– when people look in your direction, do not use your name and talk to you but you do not see that they are in fact looking at you hence talking to you
– difficulty going down stairs (edges disappear and they seem to merge into a slope!)
– not being able to see the face hence expressions of an actor/actress at a live theatre show
– no longer able to see/read music (sang in choirs/played the flute in my youth)
– not being able to use just any computer (I must have Zoom Text)
– smart phones are nothing for me

So, could you relate to any or all of these? Do you have other frustrations due to Stargardts?