Traveling Blind

Post by Elizabeth Mattey

Why would a blind person want to travel, if they can’t see anything?

It’s an understandable question, considering how central visuals are to our travel experience. We stare in awe at the ancient pyramids, or take in the scene of a tranquil tropical beach – what is the point of traveling to such exotic places if we can’t actually see them?

But what about our other senses, the other aspects of our travel experience, like the sounds of a bustling European marketplace, the smells of Southeast Asian food cooking on the fire, or the taste of spicy Mexican chilis? There’s so much more to our experiences than just the visual image of a place.

“It’s like the difference between watching a movie or reading a book,” says Barbara Salisbury, CEO of the Massachusetts Association for the Blind and Visually Impaired. “We [sighted people] are just watching the film, while a blind person experiences a new place like we do when reading a novel. They use their imagination to ‘see’ the world around them.”

Take Bill Raeder, for instance. He travels with a companion who describes scenes to him, allowing him to imagine his surroundings. “I don’t consider myself [particularly] sensitive to sounds or smells,” he says. “I rely a fair amount on verbal description of the visual sight so that I can imagine what it looks like. Now, what I imagine may not closely resemble the reality, but it’s satisfying.” Continue reading

Life in the Fast Lane

Post by Thomas Panek

As a guide dog user, I am accustom to calm, rational explanations to strangers of how my dog helps me navigate and why my service animal is allowed in public places, but perhaps my most exhilarating experience as a person who is blind came from living a bit of life in the fast lane – literally.

Most car dealerships won’t turn away a customer with a certified bank check in hand, but some years ago I strolled into a slick Porsche showroom with my guide dog in harness, and it took some loss of patience and assertive posturing to convince Shawn Young, the rep, to brush off the yellow dog hair from the leather seats and hand over the keys to the fastest, newest mid-engine coupe on the market. I was of course blind, and three letter words like the ADA were replaced with four letter words until a shiny black Cayman S, perhaps the most beautiful car ever designed, was hand delivered with a red bow to my doorstep.

Thomas and his guide dog by his Porsche

You see, two decades earlier when I was in college and met my wife Melissa, we had a choice between eating, paying tuition, and buying a rusty old 911 Porsche, the latter lost out. At that time I promised that if I ever am able to do so, I would buy one. That day had come, but the day also came when I no longer had enough vision to keep my drivers license. Continue reading