Young woman with a long cane.

How I learned to navigate my internship building with low vision

How I learned to navigate my internship building with and without my blindness cane and human guides.

I’m now starting the third week of my internship, and I’m excited to share that I now know how to navigate the floor of the building that I work in. Of course, I still get lost every now and then, but I’ve been able to get to my office and the offices of most of the people on my team without any additional help. Here’s how I learned to navigate my internship building with low vision, both with and without a cane, and what my team did to help me.

Meeting me at the door on the first day

On my first day in the office, my mentor came to meet me at the door so they could show me how to swipe my badge to get into the building, and also ensure that my badge worked. If I had to swipe my badge in a specific direction, I would have asked them to put a piece of tape on the side of the badge so that I would be able to feel the tape when I swipe. Once that was out of the way, it was time to take the elevator and go up to my office.

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Listening to a verbal description as I walk

After we got off of the elevator, my mentor offered me their arm so that I could follow them easily to my new office. They told me that the hallway could be very confusing, so using a human guide in addition to my cane was the best option. As we walked, they announced the directions we were turning and let me know about any potential obstacles that I might trip over, which was incredibly helpful. They also made a note of landmarks that I could use to remember where my office was such as the kitchen, a couch, and tables.

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Putting something on the door

One of the things that helps me know that I am in the right office is that there is a large sign with my name on the door. While everyone has their name in small print written on the door, my team thought it would be helpful if I also had a large print and high contrast sign with my name and college on it, which helps me know that I am at the right office and I didn’t already walk past it. If I wanted something more subtle, I would add some sort of tactile label such as bump dots, but I love the large print.

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Finding my own landmarks

As I practiced walking from the elevator to my office, I started making my own mental landmarks so that I would know where to go. This includes elements such as paintings on the wall, memes printed out and taped to different areas of the hallway, and recognizing the offices of other people. When walking with my mentor, I announced these different landmarks and how I was mentally mapping my way to the office so that they could tell me if I was navigating there correctly.

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A walking tour of the floor

Besides my mentor, several members of the team have shown me where their offices are, and also would tell me about landmarks I could use to find them. For example, one member of my team told me their office was right across from a candy machine, while another said that they were right next to a large comic poster. Having different team members show me around has been very helpful because I can also practice different routes walking to my office.

The locations I wanted to learn by the end of the week

By the end of the week, I wanted to master how to navigate to the following places within my internship building independently:

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Going to meetings

Right now, almost all of the meetings I have scheduled with people have been taking place in my office, because it is easier for me to take notes on my computer. For other meetings, my mentor typically walks with me or emails me directions using different landmarks to help make sure I know how to get there.

Teaching people to be human guides

Before I was even an intern, many members of my team took a training class on how to be a human guide for people with vision impairments. This was totally awesome, and I’m so glad they did this. I also sent an email during my first week educating people about how to be a human guide and telling them to identify themselves when they stop by my office until I learn to recognize everyone’s voices.

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Learning to walk without my cane

After walking several times to different locations that were close to my office, I started to practice walking without my blindness cane, since I don’t like to use it for short distances. One of the things that helped me was reciting the directions I was taking to get to whatever place I was going, or just using my mentor as a human guide so that I could get more familiar with things. By the end of my second week, I could get to all of the places I had mastered in my first week without my cane, though I do still take my cane sometimes, especially if there are lots of people standing in the hallway- I don’t want to bump into anyone!

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Final thoughts

My internship is off to a great start now that I know where I am going, and I am glad that I have been able to teach myself strong orientation and mobility skills. Eventually, I hope that I will learn how to navigate the other buildings on campus independently, but until then, I’m glad that I learned how to navigate my internship buildings with low vision.

By Veronica Lewis/Veronica With Four Eyes,

Updated February 2024; original post published June 2019.

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