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