I met Liz Myska along a trail as we joined others who had ventured out to help with a trail cleanup. For those who have never participated in these events, they are very social. Yes, we’re making the trail cleaner, but if you’re not careful, you may make friends who could change your life! Liz is one of those type of friends–indomitable, determined, clear in what she needs, what she wants, and creative in figuring out how to meet those goals.
Liz is also visually impaired. Blindness is not something she grew up with, so Liz has had to learn how to adapt to this challenge as an adult. She altered the direction of her profession (real estate law) and retrained to become a disability and elder law attorney. As an advocate for the disabled, Liz has come up with creative ways to help people with disabilities become more active. She has also worked to involve those without overt disabilities to get acquainted, and learn from her visually impaired and otherwise disabled friends.
“Walk-Fit” is a program Liz and her friend Jack Peacock came up with and have been hosting for some time, an indoor winter walking program with the goal of encouraging visually impaired people to be more active. I attended the first of this season’s “Walk-Fit” programs and had some surprises. The first was what a great indoor walking space the atrium at St. Vincent’s hospital in Worcester is.
The trees are real, a waterfall cascades for three stories, and the walkways are broad enough for friends to walk comfortably together.
I was told the gardens will be filled with spring bulbs bursting into flower when the weather gets warm. Liz, along with her buddy Jack, have constructed a program with the grant support of National Institutes of Health/National Network of Libraries of Medicine (NIH/NLM/NNLM) that is designed increase the physical activity of the visually impaired and encourage social engagement.
As we met in the first floor of the atrium, we each filled out surveys, including those of us whose eyesight is just fine. “I want everyone to have a similar experience,” Liz stated.
Once the surveys were filled out, we took a few group pictures, and were paired up, sighted guides with a visually impaired person. As my walking partner Saris and I headed out, we shortly learned we were going the wrong way–walkers are expected to travel counter clockwise. Surprise number two.
As Saris and I talked, we soon realized we had much in common, even though we were born in very different places, and live in different parts of the state. Walking and talking, whether in the woods, along a trail, or simply strolling the tree-lined atrium at St. Vincent’s, offers a familiar sociability, and encourages ease of conversation.
Arm in arm, Saris and I negotiated the walkways, but I soon became aware of people brushing past us without saying anything, apparently taking no notice of Saris’ white cane, a universal sign that someone is visually impaired. Occasionally people said quietly, “Excuse me,” as they carefully walked past us. I might not have noticed this before, but with Saris holding my arm and allowing me to be her guide, I felt the difference, and saw how difficult it is for someone with reduced sight to have people pass by, saying nothing. Surprise number three.
As we finished up, I realized that rather than doing this once and saying, “thanks for including me,” I’m looking forward to next week’s walk. The program this winter runs for six weeks into February, Wednesdays at 11:30 and Saturdays at 10:30AM as well, all at St. Vincent’s atrium, always meeting on the first floor. Look for folks with their white canes, and introduce yourself. Then prepare to be pleasantly surprised!
Marjorie Turner Hollman
Marjorie Turner Hollman is a personal historian who loves the outdoors, and is the author of Easy Walks in Massachusetts, 2nd edition, More Easy Walks in Massachusetts, 2nd edition, and editor of Easy Walks and Paddles in the Ten Mile River Watershed. Just out is her latest book, Finding Easy Walks Wherever You Are. She has been a freelance writer for numerous local, regional, and national publications for the past 20+ years, has helped numerous families to save their stories, and has recorded multiple veterans oral histories, now housed at the Library of Congress. She is a co-author of the recent community history, Bellingham Now and Then.