October 6, 2006
On 7th Avenue at 18th Street today I ran into a group of 7 or 8 blind men teaching two blind teenagers, a boy who looked to be about 14 and a girl who was little older, to navigate the city. The men walked in a huddle around the kids, explaining their navigation techniques step by step. It was late afternoon and all the men and canes made long shadows. Most of the men wore dark glasses. Both the boy and the girl were newly blind and moved awkwardly. The girl's face was burned; the boy's eyes were clouded. They reached out for steadying hands every few steps, but the men kept saying, 'Nobody is going to hold your hand out here, you have to see with your ears and your stick." The sidewalks were full of obstacles- construction, uneven concrete, street vendors, and of course people in a hurry. Every few steps brought a new crisis. The boy got turned around. The girl stumbled. A dog on a long leash got caught up in the group. But everyone kept moving. Near the corner of 19th Street one of the older men detected a construction barrier with his cane. He stopped and waited, listening to hear if his charges would navigate it, but both slammed straight in. The girl fell again this time in a muddy puddle. The man helped her up, took her hand and demonstrated how she had missed the sawhorse. He repeated this with the boy. The girl was on the verge of tears. She was silent, but you could see all the frustration and fear well up on her face. Somehow the boy knew what was happening. He took her hand, "You'll get it, don't worry you're already better than me." The men in the protective circle moved in a bit tighter. Everyone patted the kids on the back murmuring encouragement; one squeezed the girl's shoulders and you could see her relax. "I'm ok. It's ok. Let's go." Then they all continued moving ever so slowly down the avenue.