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The Tactile Traveler Episode 5

Lucas Turner

On this month's program, we explore the dynamics of blind people who are being grabbed by sighted people wherever they go. We also receive a guide to 200 Braille trails and sensory gardens, meet the world’s best known blind traveler, get tips on easier ways to find luggage, play a little blind tennis, and get special tips on reducing our chances of getting the Coronavirus.

For a full transcript of for the deaf, click here. Or go to

Journalist Nick Isenberg applies his skills and experience to a new show that seeks to "empower blind and low vision people to explore the world and help the sighted to see the world in a new way." Check out archived episodes here. To provide feedback, share story ideas, or for any other queries email

Show transcript:

From KDNK Community access Radio in Carbondale, Colorado, in the United States   this is program five of the Tactile Traveler empowering blind and low vision people to explore the world and helping our sighted friends see the world in a new way.                               

I’m Nick Isenberg.

When blind people go places, we don’t experience them like our sighted friends. We don’t see beautiful mountains or romantic sunsets. The goal of this program is to identify and even create experiences that are more meaningful or just more fun for us and for our sighted, traveling companions.  Frequently, as people lose their eyesight, they become more and more isolated.

The Tactile Traveler hopes to empower people not only to go literally around the world but around the block to new adventures in their lives.

Vision impairment ranges from people who are visually impaired (where) glasses and contact lenses no longer help them live a normal life to people, like me who are totally blind. Also, to sighted parents who have a blind child to blind parents who have sighted children. Including people of all ages, interests and physical abilities. 

On today’s program, we will explore the dynamics of blind people who are being grabbed by sighted people wherever they go. Learn about a guide to 200 Braille trails and sensory gardens, meet the world’s best-known blind traveler, get tips on easier ways to find luggage, play a little blind tennis and get special tips on reducing our chances of getting the CoronaVirus.
Don’t grab a blind person. It’s a rare day when I walk more than a block from my house that some well-meaning person doesn’t grab me. It happens to all of us all the time. Sometimes, it’s even worse.

Lidia Eckerd:
“one day, and this was in my neighborhood, I stood at the intersection, busy intersection, with my white cane and dark glasses to cross the street. Out of nowhere, these two burly guys, took me, one took me under my left arm and the other underneath my right arm, lifted me, took me across the busy intersection and set me down, before I even had the chance to scream that I was being kidnapped, they disappeared!”

Nick interjects:
“They have no way of knowing how the people they grab may react”.……
( Danielle Montour) “I have been raped and sexually assaulted and have been pretty paralyzed with terror because I have had negative experiences traveling before being assaulted by people while traveling alone, especially with two people who are much bigger and probably a lot stronger than me, that would be pretty scary. Especially because I would not exactly know where they were going to take me. You know they may not have been right across the street, it might have been somewhere else. While people might say it is broad daylight, that thing won’t happen, you never know...

(Nick) A friend of mine said that her blind former husband was standing at an intersection in New Zealand when two big guys there did the exact same thing. He had no way of knowing if the men knew, he was in front of a prison where he worked as a parole officer. You can imagine how scary that was for him, too.

 Jim Stokes, Ph.D. is a blind psychologist, and he says he also gets grabbed.

(Jim Stokes) “It happens all the time, people when you are crossing the street, waiting at a bus stop, people will grab you and try to assist you in an assertive, physical way. (Nick) says, he says you are usually better off being diplomatic than aggressive”). Try to disengage yourself from them physically and let them know that you are ok by saying, “no, please don’t touch me, I’m ok, let go of my arm.” Be clear about that without pushing back or fighting them because they are just trying to be helpful and most typically they just don’t know the best way to do that. Just to be clear with your voice, please stop and let them know this is the best way to help me, or I don’t need any help but I appreciate your efforts to help me.

(Nick) Jim says if you would like assistance, ask if you can hold their arm by the elbow and walk half a step behind them. I was standing at a bus stop in Denver when two drunks were fighting over which bus I should take. One of them even flagged down a bus and pushed me on it..So I asked Jim if the person who tries to help you is drunk, high or mentally ill? “Well, I have taken a “One Touch self-defense class through my Department of Vocational Rehabilitation training program and they taught us to disengage from people, but it depends on where they grab you of course, if they grab your arm, to just flatten your hand out and jerk your hand away from them. Then ask them to stop and let you be and let them know you are fine.” Don’t forget if you are sighted and the person you would like to help could also be drunk, high or mentally ill. So unless it is just a real emergency, ask before touching someone.

(Nick) You are listening to the Tactile Traveler on KDNK
Braille trails and sensory gardens.

Phyllis Chavez has a follow up for us on a story we aired on an earlier program.
“On program number 2 we did a story on the world’s first Braille trail, on Independence Pass near Aspen, Colorado. The first Braille, nature trail was opened in 1967. Since then, more than 200 Braille trails and sensory gardens, including more than 100 trails in 36 states and Puerto Rico. Here in the United States, Tactile Traveler listener Vivica Pepper sent us a link to the directory of those trails. The best part is that it is free and online at The directory also includes lots of information on additional nature for folks who are blind and for people with additional disabilities.”

(Nick) “ Thank you Phyllis and thank you Vivica.”

 When Tony Giles heads off on a solo, international backpacking trip, he never forgets extra batteries for his hearing aids and tips for his cane. The 41-year-old is hard of hearing as well as blind and by his count has traveled to 124 of the  194 countries in the United Nations. Tony is on the road a lot. The Tactile Traveler’s Jason Struther recently caught up with him.

 (Jason) Tony uploads youtube videos that he shoots himself, from some of his trips around the globe. There is one he recorded from the back of a motorbike that took him through the streets of Haiti. Or the time he attended a traditional drum and dance ceremony in Ethiopia. Or another that captures the roar of a Turkish waterfall. For more than twenty years, Tony has set off on his trips by himself. Though sometimes his girlfriend joins him, she is blind too. I wanted to find out more about his travels and caught up with Tony over Skype while he was back home in England. (Tony) “Hello” (Jason) Hey is that Tony, it is Jason, how are you doing today?” (Tony)  I am o.k.(Jason) Tony tells me he gets a lot of help from strangers he meets while he is on the road. But he has to explain that travel is not just about sightseeing. (Tony)  It is not just about seeing nature, but about eating the food, hearing the music and meeting the people. That is what it is really about. If you haven’t got people, you haven’t got a country! It is about breaking those barriers down really and simplifying it. (Jason) A lot of blind Americans and people around the world are intimidated to travel, many are even scared to take domestic trips by themselves. (Jason) What do you think is it that holds many visually impaired people back from travel outside of their comfort zone? (Tony) I think it is the same for what holds a lot of people back, it is the fear of the unknown and the idea of what I do if I get lost, how do I talk to a stranger you know, will they rob me? Those are the first thoughts that go through a lot of peoples’ minds, both blind, visually impaired and sighted. (Jason) How much preparation do you do before going on an international trip? (Tony)  I will research the country, public transport, how will I get to the airport, from the airport to my accommodation. I will call the airline company and say that I am blind and need some assistance. I do the research, put it on my laptop or on my digital recorder. Then I have the information when I am traveling.(Jason) What advice can you give to a blind traveler who has not traveled overseas before? (Tony) Do the research and ask questions, about accommodations. Room on ground floor, elevator with Braille? Talking? I like a walking tour. Any information, other people. Look for information online for museums, audio guides? Especially in the States, there is lots of that.(Jason) As a visually impaired person we get used to that, talking to strangers, asking, what is on this menu, it that light green? Outside of traveling to the United States, Australia and New Zealand, you have visited other countries where English is not the lingua franca, how do you get by linguistically in a country where hearing people speak English is not so common? (Tony) I learn, “hello, thank you, water, toilet.” The first time I went to a non-English speaking country was when I went to was when I went to Vietnam. My Mum found a guesthouse online. I was able to contact them and they spoke a bit of English. I told them the places that I wanted to visit and they got me a taxi. I rode around the city and I basically told the taxi driver where I wanted to go, the name, then he took me there. (Jason) You talk about walking around countries like Vietnam and Southeast Asian cities- they can be hazardous for a visually impaired person. I was recently almost clipped numerous times in recent times in Vietnam. How do you really navigate streets that are not accessible for the visually impaired or anyone with a disability? (Tony) I try to follow the traffic; obviously, I can hear it and feel it. The first time I went to Thailand, it was a complete shock! Thought, how am I going to get around here? Suddenly you are walking and then there is a hole and open drain, bricks everywhere. I went on the road and you literally are following the traffic. I use public transport to get around, like motorbike taxis; I rely on people to help me, like ask, “are you going to the shops?”  So I meet people and get around that way. I have had to join tours to get to places I wanted to. It is just not accessible any other way. I remember trying to cross the street in Vietnam with 3,000 bicycles moving at once, and sort of moving with them. Not seeing at times makes it easier, because if you could see, you would be paralyzed with fear. As you don’t see you sort of "go with the flow!” (Jason) Tony Giles, great to talk to you! Safe travels and I hope to catch you on the road sometime! (Tony)  Jason, a pleasure!
(Nick) “Jason, how can people follow Tony’s travels?” (Jason) “Tony is very active on social media and Tony actually has his own website traveler is spelled with “2 ll’s” that is the British way of spelling that word evidently. They he uploads videos and pictures and he has a blog and uploads much of his material to as well. You can search Tony on whatever search engine you use, his name, Tony Giles.” (Nick) “Thank you sir, I really appreciate your story!” (Jason) “ Thanks a lot Nick, good to talk to you!”

 (Nick) “You are listening to the Tactile Traveler on KDNK community access radio.”

Easier ways to find luggage

Finding a suitcase at luggage claim can be a challenge for all of us, Lidia Eckerd has some suggestions you might find useful

(Lidia Eckerd)
First, decorate your suitcases with substantial amounts of brightly colored duct tape including; yellow fluorescent orange, fluorescent green, pink, brown, black zebra-striped, tie-dye, it makes it easy to spot them as they come down carousels, luggage claim, and luggage storage rooms if you have low vision if you need to describe them to others. They’ll see your luggage coming from a long way and be able to guide you to them.

If you carry a backpack that you need with you on the plane, train, or bus, but won’t need to get into before you reach your hotel or next destination, put it inside your suitcase. It will take a weight off your shoulders and be one less thing to have to worry about.

Finally, take pictures of your suitcases and backpacks with your cell phone. That way if you need to describe your suitcases or backpack to luggage claim or strangers helping you they’ll be able to see what it they really look like. (Nick) “Thank you Lidia!,
Blind tennis

 In previous shows, we went to a 5 K race in Littleton, Colorado, half marathon in New York City. Now Tom Walker in Leeds English, is going to introduce us to a sport available to us in 32 countries but only so far only outside of the United States. Tom starts his story with an interview with Kelly Cronan.

 I had a friend who played visually impaired tennis and then I got together with my other half and he plays and is also a level 1 tennis coach, so I started coming down with them and I really enjoyed it so I carried on. (Tom) What are the challenges for you as a visually impaired person? (Kelly) the fact that I never see the ball, some of the higher sight classes actually do but I do not see the ball at all, even when I am connecting with my racquet. Challenge is learning to track it and learning to differentiate between the sounds, the different shots, working out what speed it is traveling at, what height the bounce is. A lot has to happen in your head between that ready, play and you hitting the ball. (Tom) Although Kelly has had a few weeks off for her second year Law Degree exams, and therefore feeling slightly rusty, it wasn’t too long before she was returning serve from Ben Green who took up tennis in October of 2012. Ben was inspired to try the sport at least in part due to the achievement of other disabled athletes. (Ben) There was a lot of sport in the media at the time, with the Olympic and Para Olympic games and it was a good Wimbledon that year.(Tom) for tennis coach Cesar Geniadec,  the experience he gained from working with visually impaired players helps him ensure they learn the correct techniques.(Cesar) I believe it is understanding what the players need. I am in a position to see the ball fully and they don’t. I base my tennis lesson on experience; I talk to the player, try to find out what the player’s needs are and try to find a way they can play. To change something especially for vision-impaired player, to change something in the habits is challenging for anybody. One player who definitely appreciates the coaching methods Cesar and the other coaches use is Casna Azir. (Casna) Because they actually listen to you as in what you need and what you need from them rather than saying right this is what we are going to do. They understand you they provide information in a way that you can access, they do not just speak at you. They show you on the tennis court where the baseline is, where the service line is, where the service boxes are, everything –make it more accessible. You can build a mental map and work for there on in as I do. (Tom) So how does this sport actually work? Dave Hilliar Disability Tennis Development Manager at the Tennis Foundation says, “visually impaired tennis is the adaptive version of the traditional game.” (Dave ) So we play on a slightly smaller court like we do with all beginner players. We use slightly smaller balls so the visually impaired and blind players can track the ball, hit the ball and we allow the players to have more bounces of the ball, more than the traditional one bounce rule. Which allows them the opportunity to play, rally and compete. (Tom) For example, a totally blind player, how would it work for them? (Dave) A totally blind player would play on a court roughly the size of a badminton court, smaller racquet and a sponge ball, makes a noise when it bounces and the totally blind player would be allowed three bounces of the ball which allows them to track the ball and know exactly where it is, and to  hit the ball back. (Kelly) Apart from rules like the “no volley” and the fact that you have to say, “ready and play” it is a tennis game. We are playing with racquets and balls, the shots are essentially the same. You still have got your forehand, backhand, your slices, your overarm, underarm serves, and with the new rules that have recently come in, we are playing on recognized tennis court sizes. (Tom) The players I spoke to are all at different levels. Kelly for instance is a national champion, but the one thing that unites them all, ambition for themselves and the sport. Dave Hilliar shares this. (Dave) We want to get the sport to grown and to get more people playing, certainly the real future of the sport and the vision of the people in the sport is that the sport goes international and to start to have international competitions. A really start to get it on a level with the other disability sports, Para-Olympic sports that are out there. (Tom) I have watched the visually impaired players play and it is my turn. Coach Cesar has given me a racquet; it is a type of racquet that younger players would use. I have a sponge ball with a rattle in the middle. The old skills are still there. I am on the service line and I am about to try and serve the ball. I haven’t done this for many a year, this could be interesting! Cesar and I have just had a rally and it has been over 30 years since I have played tennis properly. I am feeling a bit exhausted, I am finding a difference that I have already noticed, you cannot run to the net, paly volleys which I used to do because I could see the ball and the net. Better than I could staying on the baseline. (Cesar) It was brilliant, as you have not played for 30 years and a proper rally where you served into the service box where it should go. You got yourself ready for the next incoming ball. I believe the rally we had was outstanding! (Tom) You are not just saying that? (Cesar) No, I am honest! When I say you are good, you are good! (Tom) Wow!
(Nick) Tom, you played blind tennis, how did you like it? (Tom) Quite good fun, I find the problem with it, is getting the rally going, if you are playing those who are really got at it, would be completely different. (Nick) Thank you Tom, if you would like to play blind tennis, google international blind tennis association and find a country you would like to play in.

You are listening to the Tactile Traveler on KDNK Community radio. I am Nick Isenberg.
Coronavirus tips for blind and visually impaired story

(Nick) Everyone has to use good judgment to reduce their odds of catching the Coronavirus. There are some extra steps for those of us who are blind and visually impaired can do to reduce our chances of becoming a statistic rather than a spectator. Dr. Richard Davidson is a professor and Vice-Chair for Quality and Clinical Affairs at the Colorado University School of Ophthalmology. First Dr. Davidson says that it is ok to touch my face with proper precautions (Dr. Davidson) Important to not to touch your face without first washing your hands with an alcohol-based hand sanitizer first and foremost, especially if you are out and about in the community, at a restaurant, or taking public transportation. I think it is important, especially at this time of year with Influenza or Corona Virus, to clean off the white cane periodically and if you are using a guide dog, cleaning off the harness using a sanitizer, because they could get exposed there too. It is important to take those extra precautions because you are visually impaired.

 (Nick) Since the best way to have a sighted person guide us, is to hold them by the back of one of their arms, and walk half a step behind them, it is better to make both of us safer instead of looking forward at the person guiding us. Plan ahead to avoid infected areas, but if you find yourself in one, keep in constant contact with your hotel’s desk clerks, concierges, and bell persons to see if there are new places, you should go. If you are in a town you are not familiar with, you won’t be able to read maps or find dangerous places that you have heard about on the news

It is my talking scale reminding us that we want you to weigh in on how we are doing. Let us know by sending an email to: We spell traveler with one “l” the American way. We welcome KSUN in Parachute Colorado to the Tactile Traveler. This program is also being broadcast on the Audio Information Network of Colorado and in additional states and is available by typing the Tactile Traveler into any search engine, available wherever you get podcasts and asking your smart speaker for the Tactile Traveler podcast. We would like to thank the following people and organizations that made today’s program possible. Trevor Swank, Colorado Audio Video and Design, Paula Freum, Sophia Williams and Debbie O’Leary, Be My Eyes Disability Tech support, Lucas Turner, Raleigh Burleigh, and Lorraine Hutcheson.
I’m Nick Isenberg.

This has been the Tactile Traveler, empowering blind and low vision people to explore the world and helping our sighted friends see the world in a new way.  This has been a production of KDNK community Access Radio, Carbondale, Colorado.


Nick Isenberg is an experienced journalist living in the Roaring Fork Valley. He is determined to express his craft as a lively storyteller no matter the obstacle. Even legal blindness and partial deafness can't stop Nicky News from sharing information for and about real and diverse people. Nick premiered "The Tactile Traveler" as a new public affairs show on KDNK on July 30, 2019.