Travel tales from World Blind Union CEO Penny Hartin

Map of the world.
September 25, 2014

Penny Hartin, CEO of the World Blind Union, recently shared her travel routine with me. Penny travels once a month for business and therefore as little as possible for pleasure — she spends her time not traveling at her home near Toronto.

Before Penny takes a trip, she has a lot to think about. One thing she has to consider is if she is going to take her guide dog with her. There are many factors that go into this decision: Are there regulations in the country she is going to? Does she need to get special permissions? Does she need to get documents from the vet? Can she bring dog food with her?

Penny also has to consider how she is going to get from her accommodations to business meetings, so she does research ahead of time. While a sighted person would also have to look into this, it is more complex if you don’t see. For instance, if drivers in another country do not obey the rules of the road it may not be safe for her to walk.

Penny relies on her iPhone and iPad when she is traveling. She loads her iPad with movies and podcasts, because inflight-entertainment isn’t always accessible. She takes photos of her luggage with her iPhone, so she can show it to whoever is helping her at baggage claim. She also takes photos of her identification as a backup.

When Penny has arrived at her destination she uses her iPhone for navigation and communication. Even though it’s more expensive, Penny said having a data plan “is worth it.” She uses a map app on her iPhone and the blindsquare app to navigate around, especially if she is going on a walk and wants to make sure she can easily get back to her hotel.

One thing Penny’s experiences have made her think about is how airports can be more accessible. Penny hopes that the level of assistance at airports is raised. She notes, “There is not an easy way [for airports] to provide wayfinding, but maybe one day there can be a way for blind people to navigate airports themselves using electronic GPS signals of some sort.”

Kelsey Bronski is a marketing and sales support coordinator at Perkins Products.