Winter offers challenges to everyone, especially those of us concerned about the consequences of slipping on ice and injuring ourselves. The past three winters Worcester resident Liz Myska has created an indoor walking program that provides not only a safe place to walk, it also has drawn people from a wide variety of backgrounds to come walk with those who are visually impaired, and learn how sighted guides can be helpful to those who have limited vision.
Liz is visually impaired herself, and her can-do attitude is infectious. She seems able to make friends wherever she goes, and is always ready to invite others to come learn, and discover how empowering it is to be open to those with different life experiences.
I visited St. Vincent’s hospital in Worcester, where the Walk-fit program takes place, to take part in the walking, but also to get some pictures of the various interactions that occur in the course of an hour of shared walking.
St. Vincent’s looks much more like an upscale office lobby or even a fancy hotel lobby, than a hospital, with live trees, benches, circular walkways, and a three story waterfall. Staff in hospital scrubs stroll by, but others head here and there on their way as well. A group of people standing in the lobby holding white canes drew little more than a glance from passersby.
When I walked with the group last year Liz took some of the sighted guides to the nearby bathrooms, blindfolded them, and then challenged them to figure out how to navigate a public bathroom. Everyone was a good sport, but it quickly became clear that using public facilities is a harder challenge than most of us had ever thought about.
During my most recent visit Liz took in hand one of four students from Worcester Polytechnic Institute who had come to participate in the Walk-fit program. While the others headed off with their visually impaired person (VIPs, Liz calls them) the fourth got some lessons with Liz on things like how to help someone who is sight-impaired to find a chair and get safely into that chair.
He explored the sensation of walking blindfolded with a cane. Entering a doorway with a closed door became part of the lesson, as well as learning how best to hold ones’ arm so as to give assistance to a person you might be leading somewhere.
In a “turning of the tables,” those who are visually impaired are the experts in this program. Those of us who are sighted had lots of questions, and the VIPs patiently answered our curious questions. Soon conversation headed onto other topics as each participant discovered they have lots to learn form each ohter .
I shared with the group some of my own experiences with limited mobility, and the importance of never grabbing the arm of someone who is using a cane for support. In fact, never grabbing anyone’s arm is a great idea! Instead, approaching respectfully, asking if assistance is needed, and then listening, is the best help any of us can offer.
Walk-fit seeks to introduce those who are sighted to those with visual and other impairments. In the process, it is hoped that all participants will learn something. As has been the case each time I participate in this innovative program, I certainly learned from those I partnered with. To learn more about this program, contact Liz by email at firstname.lastname@example.org
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.