Follow Sendero travelers on their adventures using accessible GPS.
Low expectations have such a debilitating effect on the development of independence and aptitude on all people. With no mal intent, much of the public and even some professionals in the blindness field maintain these low expectations. It is so beneficial and yet so difficult to raise expectations of blind individuals even though the result can be so life enriching.
I was thinking about this at 11 PM last evening as I strolled from the cyber café back to our hotel. Here I was in Cork Ireland, a place I have never been before today, and within 10 hours, was feeling quite at home and very oriented. I passed some other members of our group along the way, coming back from a restaurant. Still others were out listening to some live Irish music. And yet, we are not all “super blinks”, we have a wide variety of personalities, travel techniques, skills and attitudes. I wondered what the common component was that placed us in the this part of the world, all enjoying ourselves and choosing the people we wanted to hang out with and the activities we wanted to do.
We arrived in Cork on the train from Dublin around 2 PM and took taxis to the Killarney Guest House on Western road. I had the taxi driver drive through town and describe the layout and interesting places to visit. By 3 PM, we all met in the house’s common room and decided to head for town, nothing specific in mind and no particular time to reconnect. We would divide and conquer. People clustered into groups of their choosing and started walking toward town. Everyone had their BrailleNote GPS and most groups had a person with a two-way radio.
Periodically, the radio would squawk as we checked in with each other with tips about places we had discovered. Some stopped to eat while others continued to wander. Eventually, we were at two different pubs and then all at one pub talking about where to have dinner. It is not easy figuring out how and where 20 independent people want to go to dinner.
Logistically, some blind folks might naturally connect with a sighted person in the group in order to find and get to a restaurant in a brand new city. There are 5 fully sighted people out of our group of 20. I think I shocked the agent at the train station when he asked me if we had any sighted guides for our group and I said we kept them out of sight until we needed to drive somewhere. I am not sure if he realized I was kidding or not.
From the pub, we broke up into dinner groups as the hungriest people said, “I am out the door, who is coming with me?” Off we went again to separate parts of town based upon who we wanted to visit with that evening and what we wanted to eat.
Some of the blind and sighted people in our group, don’t walk all that fast and some get easily turned around. These are not all travelers from the O&M Olympics and yet people were heading out the door of that Washington Street Pub when and where they wanted. In fact, when we were in Dublin and did walk to a restaurant as a group, we arrived there minus 2 people. I was worried but they were industrious and eventually found us.
After dinner, people again broke up into sub groups or couples, some headed back to the hotel, some went in search of music and I headed for the Cyber Café to post the Blog for the day. This involved finding Sheila with the camera at another restaurant, getting the text from Ilona, going to the Guest House, getting my laptop and back again into town to find the Cyber Café which I had never been to before. The radios and GPS definitely helped coordinate all this. Ilona handed me a compact flash card with the Blog text on it when we passed each other on an island in an intersection.
I really felt a glow as I walked along the busy Western Road toward the guest house, late at night, not from too much Guinness but from the realization that all these folks with different skills and personalities shared the expectation that they could do what they wanted with whom they wanted, some more slowly than others, some getting lost, many getting frustrated, but everyone thirsty to explore and experience the culture and the city. We were all inspired by each other. The fact that the O&M bar is set high by the group has challenged all of us to exceed our personal bests.
On Tuesday, some folks went to kiss the Blarney Stone, some took a bus to a seaside village of Kinsale and I headed for the Cork City Gaol with Valorie with another group following. We wanted to find it ourselves based on very vague directions from a passing tourist. She told us it was up very steep hills, implying we might not be able to make it.
Our guesses of when to cross streets and when to turn ended up being right on. The GPS was running but we didn’t have an address or point of interest to shoot for so we stopped the few people we met along the way and kept getting confirmation we were headed in the correct direction. It was in a very residential area so there weren’t many people to ask. We did find it, long before the group with the sighted folks in it but we aren’t boasting just pleased that we got there in one piece and without spending the whole day looking for it.
It is spelled Gaol but it is really a jail or prison opened in 1824 and closed in 1923. The tour was 95% accessible. We were given a recorder and headphones. The tape was not only informative about the exhibits but it gave precise directions where to go and where to turn. It was amazing for two blind people to be able to take a 90-minute tour without a word from a sighted person and we didn’t miss a thing. We were able to touch the models of the prisoners in the cells and a number of other tactile objects. It is worth the trip to Cork just for such an exceptional historical experience.
After five miles of walking, a meager attempt at shopping, stopping for lunch and exploring some less accessible tourist sites, we are back at our guest house in preparation for our meeting with Irish Guide Dogs this evening where we will have a chance to show off the GPS technology to locals and to learn from them. We hope that the high bar we have set for ourselves will also inspire blind people of this area to challenge themselves to see just what is possible. Sure could have used one of those sighted people with the shopping. The GPS can help get us to the store but it doesn’t tell us anything about the items inside. We need technology to help with identifying people and goods in a shop. Now that we can independently get where we want to go, we are greedy for even more location information. I am sure our Irish compatriots would agree. We’ll find out tonight over a pint.