Editor’s note: In honor of National Reading Month, today’s post features an audio recording of Maribel Steel’s story, “Many Different Hats.” Whether you enjoy reading large print, braille, or following along with audiobooks, the VisionAware peers encourage you to continue to enjoy reading. Click the link below to listen to Maribel’s story.
(Soft music plays then fades out as the narrator begins to speak)
Narrator:“Many Different Hats,” written by Maribel Steel and read by Carol Middleton. Playing Time: 7:51 minutes.
My hat goes off to all the blind travelers around the world—may you always find a safe path home.
When a blind or vision-impaired person ventures out from her home, it can feel like going into a battle zone. Navigating a safe path around obstacles and barriers, and maintaining your dignity, is like taking a merry waltz through a mine field.
At any moment, the ground can shift beneath your feet, the white cane may sweep a path straight into a hole, and not for one second can you allow your thoughts to lapse or to become caught up in the whirlwind of commuter activity.
While standing on the pedestrian island in the middle of Dandenong Road with peak hour traffic zooming past, I stop to consider how challenging it is to get from home to my workplace.
With my mother hat securely in place, I walk my son to school, kiss and hug him goodbye, then negotiate my way to the tram stop. The entire time, all of my senses are switched to high alert, manoeuvring around a host of obstacles in this unpredictable environment.
My ears prick up for the slightest hint of anything different today: workmen, rubbish bins, old mattresses dumped on the footpath.
My mother hat is swiftly replaced with a survival hat. Using my white cane as a trusted guide, I attempt to cross a busy road. I listen with complete focus and concentration—not one other thought crosses my mind except ‘Stay safe’.
Luckily, the audible beeping lights actually work today—well that helps. I cross the tram tracks and appear calm as I wait with the other city-bound travelers.
With my sensitive hat on, my nose twitches at the noxious fumes of trapped pollution. My eyes are stinging and my ears are bombarded with the unpleasant roar of the traffic.
At the tram stop, a friendly old gentleman starts chatting with me, attracted by the white cane. He helps to identify the right tram, which is a relief. Our chat continues until my stop. The brief interaction with a kind stranger gives me a sense of connectedness to others.
I step off the tram clinging to two hats, my well worn survival hat plus my “Don’t panic” hat.
I am delicately poised on a meter of uneven ground, between a tram line and a wide highway, ready to lunge forward at the next break in traffic. My body is tense, my hand and feet rigid, my thoughts and hearing focused.
It is an unnerving place to be, heavy metal roaring past, and trams thundering by only inches from my heels. The deep vibrations on the metal tracks linger well after the tram has moved on. I hear people darting across the road, and I dare not run this gauntlet as I have no idea if they are jumping the traffic lights since the warning beeps are not working on this crossing.
My cane always alerts others to my visual disability and often brings much appreciated help, as on this occasion. A young woman comes to my rescue and gently guides me over to the safety of the pavement.
I count the ten concrete steps to the front foyer of my work place with a sense of relief and achievement. Not only have I located the right building, but I have also arrived safely. Its time to don my work hat, but I am not at my desk yet.
There is still the lift to locate. I squeeze into it and listen to the robotic voice announcing the floors. At the right moment I dash out, careful not to get my cane caught in the doors. I make the final short trek to my desk on the ninth floor and slump into my chair.
Even though the trip has taken under an hour, so many hats have been necessary: mother hat, survival hat, don’t panic hat, focus hat, stay calm hat, courageous hat, alert hat…
It has taken a lot of mental energy and emotional courage just to get this far, and now, new challenges are about to present themselves.
Another unpredictable environment awaits—they may not be life-threatening, but it can bruise my ego if I stumble over unexpected objects amid the clutter of desks, filing cabinets, or loose items on the floor.
My work day passes quickly and before I know it, it is time to set off again for home, in reverse order—the lift, the steps, the roads, the traffic, the tram stop, school, home.
I climb aboard the number five tram, relieved to have a few minutes to rest my eyes. Check list: work hat off, multi-tasking mother’s hat on? Yes!
I arrive home safely with my son, my head thumping and eyes stinging. My tense body lets go of rigid muscles in the comfort of our home, where most things are predictable.
Each time I step out of the house, a whole new adventure begins, presenting a new set of challenges as well as hazards of all descriptions: people, poles, rubbish bins; post-boxes, shop signs, outdoor chairs, tables; steps, uneven sections of pavement, parked motorbikes, bicycles; dogs on long leashes, small children on small bikes; waiters dashing out from café entrances. Not to mention tram tracks, bus stops, overhanging branches (particularly not appreciated in the rain), puddles, unaligned curbs. The list is endless.
As a vision-impaired person, to cope with my limitations and to successfully function in a sighted world, I have learned to refine certain qualities along the way, like razor-sharp wits, well-honed orientation skills, courage, trust, good humor—and, of course—a fetish for many different hats!
(Soft music begins to play then fades as narrator ends the story)