Mobility in a Slipper

Because many of you are asking me about the mobility segment of my training I thought I’d post about this area first.

My first session with Hanneke

The weather here is always a topic of conversation. Doing my first mobility session in a slipper, in the cold, with grey skies wasn’t my idea of fun, it, like the weather made for lousy conversation. What’s not to dislike? At least I had some hours of mobility training behind me.

For my first session Hanneke (my mobility instructor) and I walked off of the site and into the tiny residential area that surrounds the “campus.” Away I went, me and my infected toe, and the pain in each step was nasty but I didn’t want to bug out of this. Being a wimp wasn’t an option.

I stepped off of the site and began to make a map. I began instantly because at some point I’m going to have to find my way home…..all alone. I’m going to have to use all my skills and prove I can do it. So I began to work on the problem from the first step I took outside of the Loo Erf campus. One day Hanneke will say to me “today is the day that we drop you somewhere and see if you can make it home.” That is the day I must prepare for…..the day when every skill I’ve learned is put to the test. It isn’t about the dog: it’s about being self sufficient and safe from things that go “bump” in the middle of the day.

This city is new to me. I don’t know it at all and that worked well because Hanneke could see what I couldn’t see. I couldn’t see the bus stop until I was right on top of it. I felt stupid. That is what needed to happen. The truth is I was kind of distracted. It hurt walking on a sidewalk in a slipper that is coming apart….slowly. So I stumbled along in the cold making my map and learning. I learned a short cut the very first day. I liked that.

Doing mobility in a new place is a real eye opener. I can’t fake seeing because I don’t know what I’m supposed to be seeing so, in essence, she got to see the real me in action. I have to realize that I’m not as good as I am when I know the area. Stumbling onto the bus stop was proof of that fact. So I have to learn a great deal. It will get better, and I will be able to travel by bus and train. This will be good. For right now I want to just relax and take my time getting to where I can be independent.

Going to the Shopping center

This isn’t as simple as it sounds. What you might take for granted I can’t. I can’t just walk across the street. I can’t just look down the road and see everything that you see. I need to train to understand the environment. I need to be safe. So learning a new route is done with the help of a sighted person, and it is done in phases.
The first phase was to walk to the first major street crossing and study how the traffic flows. There are two signals that control the traffic in a north/south direction. I listen for a quiet first half of the street and step out into the road. Once in the middle of the road I listen for the sound of no traffic and courageously step into the street again. Now I’m on the other side of the street. That was the second lesson.

The trick to all of this is to make sure, in as much as I can, that I am seen. Sometimes you get lucky and a car will stop and let you cross. That is very kind. So to all you drivers reading this: be nice to those of us with little white walking sticks. Watch out for us as we may not see you.

The second phase was to continue along the same path I knew from the previous session and learn two new crossings. This turned out to be tricky as neither cross signal was working. So I got the assistance of the human touch: Hanneke.

I got to the shopping center and explored what was there: several grocery stores, post office, drug store, the fish guy and a bakery. I also found my bank. I returned home and gave myself a nice pat on the back for having been able to navigate that far.

The next session was “the test” could I do it unassisted. Hanneke said she was pleased with the way I did things. I guess I passed. Not bad for just a few hours of work.

So why do low vision and blind people carry sticks? To let you know who we are, that we can’t see you or stuff around us. To let you know that you will see us before we see (if we do see) you. Aside from the practical issue of not bumping into walls we carry a stick for the simple reason that we need it to navigate the sighted world.


About Gail Nicolaysen-Shurtleff

I am an American who is living in The Netherlands. I am a Marriage and Family Therapist with a license to practice in California. Music has been a huge part of my life. Singing is something you can find me doing at any time and anywhere. I have to admit that I try to not sing while out in public though. You can also find me in the kitchen cooking up wonderful things. cooking is something that I have just recently (in the last ten years) discovered that I'm talented at doing, and it is really fun. The best way to know me is to read my blog.
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6 Responses to Mobility in a Slipper

  1. Hello Gail,

    I like your level of honesty and exactness and your almost literary style in describing your experiences trying to get by, being “challenged”, as they say, by a visual impairment. To me your account is an agreeable and accessible mix of keen observation and introspection, description, reflection and cranky humour.
    I feel that by your initiative and style, more people can open up a little to what it really means and feels like to lose (large parts of) our primary sensory faculty. I cannot help but sympathising with the way you try to handle this, – and all that comes on your path.
    I think you should get (and allow) a ton of support now and then.

  2. margriet noot says:

    Dear Gail,

    Nice description of your learning experiences. Gives a lot of insight to read the details.

    Love, Margriet

  3. Gail Nicolaysen-Shurtleff says:

    Thanks, I will be posting many more things here. I hope everyone can learn from this.

  4. Job B. Hartgers says:


    At first I want to thank you for posting your blog, I love to read all what you have written so far!!
    I finf it very interesting to read how you experience the low vision ”problem”, by reading your blog it enables me to get a better insight in the problems that blind and low vision people may and can encounter and I want you to know that I am very grateful feel to learn from you.
    It will help me to get a better insight in the lives of the people with a visibility problem.
    Don’t get me wrong though, I do not say this out of a sick thrill of sensation, but because I want to understand what it is like to have low vision.
    And by writing all that you experience, I learn through you. Does that makes sense?
    I want to thank you for the way you write, you write in a very down to earth style which I totally like but also..when i read your story about finding the car and your hubby and your feelings of being scared and felt like you were all alone and on your own finding Jon and the car, it touched me deeply!!
    And I could almost feel how scared you were.
    Well, lady with the loaded shot gun, now this is meant as your own nick name, because when you mentioned it to me many weeks ago, I really loved it and felt it was so you to say that.
    Of course I know that you are not a lady with a loaded shot gun, but you get my point..right??

    Please keep writing, and share your feelings and what you have learned, to is a tremendous help in learning what it is to have low vision.
    Again..thank you so much!!

    Big hug,


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