The Ground Beneath Our Feet

Hello, again dear readers.

I have, on many occasions, mentioned how having Commando at my side enables me to pay more attention to the world around me.  As well as meaning that I can enjoy things such as bird song or pleasant smelling greenery, I have found that I can also pick up useful navigational information from, of all things, the ground.

In a previous post, I mentioned how factors such as touch, sound and smell could aid in helping us to find certain places when we are out and about.  But in some cases what can be felt underfoot can also be helpful.  Such clues can often be extremely subtle and easily missed, especially when attention is focused on other areas.

The potential usefulness of what was underfoot as an aid to navigation was first pointed out to me during my pre-guide dog training.  We were covering a route and were approaching a turn.  I had wondered aloud how best to find the turn, aside from sweeping out with my cane, and my instructor at the time pointed out that just before the turn there was an almost ramp like dip in the ground.  I had walked that route many times previously and had never once registered the presence of what was described.  But the second I knew to look for it I felt it, and upon moving slightly back and going over it a couple of times I found myself wondering how on earth I had never noticed it before.

Craig and Commando walking down the roadI have found that ever since Commando and I started working together I have become much more mindful of what is underfoot and whether or not it can be used to aid my navigation. 
I have found a number of other subtle changes underfoot that I have made a note of and found helpful in getting around.  For instance near my parents’ home there is a slight elevation under-foot.  Not long after moving into my own home I found a very slight decline underfoot that exists just before we reach our front gate.  On our route to the post box, there is a slight incline which lets me know that it is time to direct Commando to the curb for a road crossing.  A clue of particular use is another slight incline as we are approaching the second part of crossing the roads into and out of a petrol station.  This is especially helpful as the curbs are extremely low and could potentially be missed in the event of a break in concentration.  

Once I started to become aware of such things, and realized how helpful they could be it surprised me just how many slight navigational cues existed just in my own street! But of equal surprise was the fact that I had never really noticed them before!

As well as these subtle kind of changes there are of course more obvious under-foot clues for navigation such as tactile paving and the changes which can be felt moving from one kind of surface to another.  Tarmac to paving stones for example.  Such a change is certainly noticeable when one is using a cane, moving along from fairly smooth and co-operative tarmac to slightly uneven paving which is just waiting for the chance to snare an unsuspecting cane tip…  But there are other subtle changes to surfaces which can, if you’re looking for them, yield helpful information, for example on a regular route we take there is a slight change in the feel of the surface under-foot which tells me that Commando has indented enough to allow us to cross the road.

I have no doubt at all that it is the fact that I can place so much confidence and trust in Commando’s guiding abilities which has enabled me to become more aware of these under-foot aids to navigation.  After all, the only reason I can spare the concentration to notice such changes is because Commando is doing such a good job of guiding, and even though Commando knows his routes very well and could probably take care of them all without any help from me I still pay close attention to ensure that I can still give Commando the instructions to keep us safe and on track.


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