Winter Weather Orientation and Mobility (Oh My!) for Children and Teens with Visual Impairments

parent and two children playing in the snow

Now I don’t know where you live, but I am freezing here in Delaware and most certainly have winter weather on the brain!

This morning, in fact, my kiddos and I definitely should have worn hats and gloves to the bus stop, but gloves in particular seem to be ever-missing in this home. One trip to the Target dollar section later, and I am well stocked on woodland animal beanies and cotton gloves. Tomorrow morning we’ll be prepared.

Bring it on, winter!

Well, actually…go easy. Please, I’m begging you, go easy.

In thinking about preparing for winter, it occurred to me that we should discuss cold weather preparations and skills for children and teens with visual impairments.

Winter Gear Is a Necessity

If your child is spending time outdoors in cold weather, snow, and/ or ice, of course winter gear is a necessity. To purchase the most appropriate gear, consider the following:

  • A beanie is considered the best style of winter hat for folks with visual impairments, as it can lay or be folded above the ears. Ear muffs, winter headbands, and the like will impede your child’s ability to listen to environmental clues.
  • When considering hand warmth (and I’m glad you are, as holding a cane or dog guide harness means one hand is exposed to the harsh elements), knit mittens are the gold standard. Alternatively, mittens you’ve adapted or tube-shaped wraps over each hand are on point. Each allows optimal feedback while providing warmth.
  • To minimize slipping on icy surfaces, ensure your child’s shoes are designed to provide traction. You can also purchase and attach “trax” (such as YakTrax) for increased stability in the snow or on ice.
  • Glare is brutal where snow abounds; be prepared with good sunglasses (likely amber tinted lenses will be recommended) and a visor.
  • The best mobility cane for freezing conditions is one that doesn’t collapse. There are not only no joints which can freeze, but it also holds up well if it is leaned on in icy conditions.
  • The best cane tip for snow conditions depends on the technique your child is using. If your child is poking snow which has been iced-over, a thin tip is best; if your child is gliding over soft snow, a broad tip is best.

Winter Weather Mobility Techniques

That about covers winter gear (minus thermal layers and a great jacket); now let’s talk mobility techniques, skills, and strategies used in the snow and ice:

  • Your child will learn a light cane touch for fluffy snow and a heavier touch for icy conditions. Additionally, your child will learn to poke the snow with the cane to gauge its depth and consistency.
  • Your child will learn to choose a route that has been recently plowed (when possible).
  • Your child will learn to ask for assistance to navigate around icy terrain.
  • Your child will learn to call for a taxi or call a friend if conditions worsen and it is no longer safe to travel.
  • Your child will learn to leave the house with ample time when weather conditions are poor.
  • Your child will learn to utilize a GPS, a particularly helpful tool when landmarks are unrecognizable.

Alright experts, do you have additional mobility tips and tricks for the snow and ice? How about winter weather gear you or your child cannot live without? As a Floridian who’s bracing for her first winter in Delaware, I sure would love to know!