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The Tactile Traveler 10 - Bicycle Safety, Directory Assistance, Blind Reporter Nate Trela & More


The Tactile Traveler host NIck Isenberg explores how blind and low vision people can protect themselves from the rapidly increasing numbers of bicycles taking over big cities. Free directory assistance for those who their cell phone’s screen. A blind reporter how has figured out how to do his job which requires lots of travel. This episode also covers wide angle cameras, making face masks more comfortable, a very unusual tip for white cains, and how to fly right through Friday the 13th.

Award-winning blind 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."

The show transcript for this episode is available by clicking this link, or going to TINYURL.COM/TACTILE10

The transcript is also available below:

Tactile Traveler 10 Transcript

The Tactile Traveler Script Show #10

Nick Isenberg


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.

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

On today’s program: How we can protect ourselves from the rapidly increasing numbers of bicycles taking over big cities, free directory assistance if you can’t see your cell phone’s screen, blind reporter who has figured out how to do his job which requires lots of travel, making face masks more comfortable, tips on a very unusual tip for white canes, and how to fly right through Friday the 13th.

Because of COVID19 many people are afraid to use mass transit and ride-share companies like Uber and Lift. A lot of those people are riding bikes instead. So many, bicycle traffic in Manhattan has doubled, creating new challenges for blind pedestrians.

DENNIS SUMLIM:  A lot of times the bicycles, they go in whatever direction.  Some of them try to stay with the flow of traffic but oftentimes, especially on the streets that aren’t as heavily trafficked, they go the wrong way.

NICK: Dennis Sumlin’s a blind pedestrian in Manhattan.

DENNIS:  One day I was crossing a one way street, pretty simple crossing, by myself, by my place, and this bike was coming at me the wrong way. Of course I had the right-of-way obviously, but the bike is still riding the wrong way and it DOES hit me!

NICK: Dennis was lucky. He wasn’t hurt. But pedestrians have been killed and thousands have been injured by bicycles in New York City. 

Like in New York City, bicycle traffic has increased in many cities, so we wanted to see what we could do so we wouldn’t be run over or into by cyclists.

Amsterdam and the Netherlands is the bicycle capital of the world.  Before COVID19,  thirty-eight percent of all trips were made on two-wheels. 

DERRICK GWENE:  Bicycles are THE mode of transportation in the Netherlands because you generally can get through town, from one place to another without having to stop. So everybody has bicycles and there are bicycle lanes everywhere so I deal with them everyday. 

NICK: Derrick Gwene went blind about two-and-a-half years ago. He uses a white cane. He has to deal with bicycles where he lives, about 100 miles from Amsterdam, and when he visits Amsterdam.

DERRICK GWENE: The biggest challenge is basically the cyclists stopping or understanding the signals that you’re giving out as a blind person when you want to cross the road because you’re taught as a blind person is if you can find a safe place to cross like a zippered crossing or a pelican crossing, which are the ones which beep and turn the traffic lights red, then you cross there.  But when you are crossing you’re supposed to put your stick out in front of you so it acts like a bar to stop people coming across you, and the biggest challenge that you face is that the cyclists are often not aware of what that message means and it’s only because you've got the stick out and bar their way that they sort of understand that somebody who’s blind is about to cross over the road.  

NICK: Derrick says cyclists don’t always stop.

DERRICK:  Yeah, sometimes I do have problems and it’s mainly with say the younger generation, the older generation around Amsterdam tend to be a bit more clever and stop for you quite easily.  They’re looking to see you coming, so looking ahead of themselves and then they stop.  The middle generation, the university and college students, have a bit of a laissez faire type attitude so what they do is that they see you coming and they will try and just get around you quickly before they have to stop because they’re in a hurry to get somewhere.  The younger generation are those ones who go to secondary school, so from the age of about increments of say eight to sixteen, believe they are immortal and they do not stop for anybody so they just tend to try and cycle as quickly as they can past you and when you stick the stick out, because they’re not really paying attention, they may be talking to their friends on their phones, they nearly always run into the cane which is sticking out.

NICK: Laura Meddens lives in Amsterdam where she uses a guide dog, but she says when she goes to central Amsterdam, there are so many cyclists many of them don’t see her guide dog and don’t realize that she’s blind.

LAURA MEDDENS: When I have my cane in my backpack and that sticks out so they can see that I’m blind they take a little more consideration with you but usually use the guide dog only. 

NICK: Most guide dogs are trained to be on the left, so their handler’s right hand is free to shake hands. That means in countries with left-hand drive, cyclists are even less likely to see their guide dogs and realize they are blind.

LAURA MEDDENS:  I think it’s very important for them to show that they are blind in situations where you can’t always hear everything because the traffic is so immense, but you do have a cane to show people that you are blind so that you can show the cane and stick it in front, so they know what to do.  

NICK: Both Derrick and Laura said when they rode bikes before they were blind, they didn’t know that  they were supposed to stop when someone stuck out a white cane in front of them.

A spokesperson for the New York City Police Department told us that there is no law against holding your white cane out in front of you when you want to cross the street but there’s also no law requiring it.  

You’re listening to the Tactile Traveler. I’m Nick Isenberg.

NICK: Under Federal Communication Commission rules in the United States cell phone providers have to make all of their services available and easily usable to people with disabilities.  

Phyllis Chavez has some information on how that relates to directory assistance that you might find useful.

PHYLLIS: Not only useful, but at the right price. Free! All major cell phone carriers have figured out the easiest way to make directory assistance accessible to people who are blind or visually impaired is to make it at no charge. 

Directory assistance serves two functions: for people who can’t read from directories, or see their cell phones screens all the time, like when they’re in bright sunlight. It not only finds the number, it usually also dials the number. 

You can apply for free directory assistance by searching the internet for “free directory assistance for the blind”  and the name of your cell phone carrier online. But frequently, it’s just  easier to say, “Hey Siri, Call the Denver Art Museum.”

SIRI VOICE:  One possibility I see is Denver Art Museum on West 14th on Parkway in Denver.  Is that the one you’re looking for?


SIRI VOICE: Calling Denver Art Museum

PHYLLIS: It even works for international calls. Hey Siri, call the Eiffel Tower.

SIRI VOICE:   I found one option; Eiffel Tower Avenue Anatole in Paris.  Do you want to call that one?


SIRI VOICE: Calling Eiffel Tower

PHYLLIS:  You can call the same way on Android phones by saying  “Hey, Google.” Of course “Hey Siri” and ”Hey Google” have to be set up on your phones for it to work. 

NICK: Thank you, Phyllis. 

NICK: One of our regular features is showing how blind people have adapted to do their jobs while traveling.

Nate Trela is one of the half-dozen or so, full-time, blind reporters in the United States.

Before losing his sight, he worked for the DETROIT FREE PRESS and then he got a job with a gas and oil industry trade publication called ‘Merger Markets’. That’s when he really started going blind. His job was traveling from trade conferences to trade conferences and reporting on the highlights of what took place there.

After repeated eye surgeries had little long term effects, he became a student for nine months at the Colorado Center for the Blind in Littleton Colorado.

NATE TRELA: Shortly after I finished my training program at the Colorado Center for the Blind I got a call from (inaudible) who wanted to hire another body into the energy team.  He said, ”I liked your stuff before.  Tell me how you’d do the job.”  He was very great about asking the right questions and asking them in the right way.  And when I said “Well, let me talk about accommodations.”  He was really interested. “Ok, what’s your technique, how do you do this? What do you need to make this connection?  Tell me how you’re going to cover this when you can’t see?” And I talked about well, do you have to pay that much attention to the Power Points?

NICK: Nate figured out a way to deal with Powerpoint Presentations and a lot of other obstacles. Before going to a conference, he calls the closest college with the journalism school and asks if they have any J school students who could assist him.  He then pays the student the standard going-rate in the community per hour to sit next to him and read Powerpoints to him and the names of panel members and their titles.

The hardest thing for any reporter to do when covering a panel discussion or speaker is to grab that speaker or a member of the panel that you would like to interview as they walk off the stage. That’s because they just disappear in the crowd really quickly. And they are the people Nate goes to the conference to interview. So he and his college student assistant sit in the front row and he tells the student who he would like to interview. And the student talks to that person as they walk down towards the audience and tells them that Nate will be there in a minute to interview them. 

But before they even start working together, Nate has them sign a contract saying that they cannot sell any stories from that conference so that he doesn’t get scooped by his own assistant. 

Nate says that his assistants learn a lot by watching him that they don’t learn in class. Like that it’s okay to interview the CEO of a major corporation as they walk from the stage to their car. To keep his costs down, Nate says that he usually doesn’t meet his assistant until they’re in the same room together.  Nate pays the student and then puts their cost on his expense account. 

Nate says he does his homework. Before leaving home he finds out what gate his plane will be arriving at and its relationship to luggage claim and luggage claim’s relationship to the Uber pickup area.

NATE TRELA: A lot of the times people get a little surprised to see me travel independently to conferences. Sometimes I don’t bother to hire a guide because I don’t need it.  You can throw people off a little bit.  But there’s a lot of blind professionals out there that are travelling, that are going to conferences, that are going places.  We work in a lot of industries and a lot of jobs you wouldn’t expect. 

NICK: Shooting video for a person who is blind or visually impaired seems impossible, but The Tactile Traveler’s Jason Strother figured a way to do it that you might find useful.

JASON: As a freelance journalist I need to tell stories in as many ways as possible; including in print, audio and video.  But, as someone who’s legally blind, my vision is something like twenty over three hundred, capturing good quality images doesn’t come easily.  Recently, I picked up a GoPro camera, and no, the good folks at GoPro are not paying me to plug their gadget. Let me turn it on. (Camera beeps three times) It’s a tiny device.  It fits in the palm of your hand.  But it has a really wide lens.  What’s also pretty cool about it, is that it’s voice activated. 

“GoPro, start video.” (BEEP) Now it's recording.  Thanks to the wide lens, you can point the camera at pretty much anything and will be sure to get it all in frame.  Likewise, if you turn the camera  around at yourself and hold it at arm’s length you’ll be able to shoot from about your mid torso to the top of your head, at least.  There’s no manual focus on this camera, so everything you shoot comes out pretty clear and it shoots up to  4K video so the quality is pretty much as good as it gets.  But the file sizes are pretty big. 


Like I said, the camera is really small.  I can’t really find the viewfinder on the back so well.  But the GoPro allows users to stream video onto other devices.  So what I do is relay anything that’s coming through the lens, onto my IPad.  And on that, I can see things pretty good.  Maybe even better than I normally do.  Let’s watch that video I just shot.  I’ll hit the “play” button.  (SOUND OF VIDEO AUDIO FROM ABOVE PARAGRAPH PLAYS)  Fantastic! I never looked better!

The same trick works for taking pictures.  “GoPro, Photo mode!” (GOPRO BEEPS ONCE)

“GoPro, take photo!”  (GOPRO BEEPS 3 TIMES) There you go.

“GoPro, turn off!” (GOPRO BEEPS RAPIDLY MULTIPLE TIMES) I need to save battery life. (sarcastically) 

So, with gear like this, you can capture good quality video from your next trip to the beach, to the park, or while you’re having lunch.  And that’s exactly what we all need right now; more videos of people eating.  

For the Tactile Traveler, I’m Jason Stother.  (GOPRO 3 BEEPS OFF TO CLOSE STORY)

NICK: Thank you, Jason. 

You’re listening to 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. 

NICK:  Those Face masks that  keep people from dying or getting really sick from COVID19 don’t have to be uncomfortable. Lydia Eckert has a suggestion you may find useful:

LYDIA: We all hate them. But, since we don’t hate everyone else, or ourselves and because in many places it’s the law, we wear face masks when we travel outside  our homes. Well, there’s no reason to have those pain in the ears, glasses, hearing aides, or earings  straps that keep falling off.  All you have to do is attach the ear loops together with a string, a piece of elastic, some velcro, cable ties, or rubber bands. Then move the straps to the bottom of the back of your head. They’ll stay on 1 better and be more comfortable.

NICK: Thank you Lydia.

(NAT SOUNDS OF WHITE CANE) What you’re hearing is the sounds of my white cane as I’m walking down the sidewalk in front of my home last winter.  It doesn’t sound anything like the sound of the white canes by actors in movies.  In the real world, most white cane users don’t sound like people in the movies.  Most of us don’t even tap our canes because we have a number of different kinds of tips we can use.  Most of them are pretty small and we keep them on the ground most of the time.  The technique is called “constant contact.”  That gives us a lot of information about the kind of surfaces we’re going over.  For example, we can tell if we’re on a sidewalk or in a street. But the tip I’m using on this cane is totally different from anything I’ve ever experienced in the past.  It’s called a “decoded disc” and it’s six inches wide and shaped like a frisbee.

Lorraine Hutchinson is my Colorado Department of Vocational Rehabilitation white cane instructor.  She said a decoded disc is designed to be used where most tips would get jammed.

LORRAINE HUTCHINSHON:  I have to work with people who live in rural areas and sometimes people don’t have nice footpaths and sidewalks to walk on and need to walk across fields or they might like to do some walking and hiking on trails that have small stones or grass and these slide beautifully over tiny roots and stones and they are ideal for not getting snagged.  It’s really mainly designed for grass and hiking over trails that have small roots and sand.


NICK:  What you’re hearing is the decoded disc sliding over cement, soft snow, hard snow and ice. (NAT SOUND OF CANE ON ICE CONTINUES) It looks like my neighbors haven’t been real conscientious about shoveling their sidewalks. The advantage is the disc slides over almost any surfaces.  The disadvantage; you get almost no feedback as it does that.  It feels the same on cement, snow or ice.  So I’m getting no warning that there’s really slippery ice ahead of me.  The only real feedback is when I swipe from side to side and get feedback from when the sidewalk meets a small retaining wall on my right and packed snow next to the sidewalk on the left.

In the summer I might not even be able to tell where the sidewalk stops and where the grass begins.  I’d consider buying one if I was going to be spending time on sandy beaches or hiking on rough trails. (CANE GLIDING SOUNDS FADE STORY TO CLOSE)

The Tactile Traveler’s Jason Strother is from New Jersey in the United States, but he works as a free-lance reporter based in Soul, South Korea, so he frequently flies across the Pacific Ocean. As a result he has a tip you might find useless. (sarcastic)

JASON: Ok, here’s a pro tip for all you superstitious types from a TransPacific jetsetter like me.  If Friday the 13th  freaks you out there’s something you can do something about it. First, you need to catch an Asia bound flight off the west coast from a city like Los Angeles, San Francisco, or Seattle.  It takes about four hours to cross the International Date Line from there. So if you leave in the evening of Thursday the 12th you can fly straight into Saturday the 14th.  And for some reason if you want to have an extra LONG Friday the 13th you can fly back to the U.S. from Asia early in that day and arrive just in time to experience it all over again. 

Now again, flights are being held back because of the Pandemic but sooner or later airlines will resume something like their normal schedules. So, mark your calendar! The next Friday the 13th is this November, and then again in August 2021. 

You’re welcome.

NICK: Thank youuu, Jason! 

This is the Tactile Traveler on KDNK. I’m Nick Isenberg


It’s my talking scale reminding us that we’d like you to weigh in on how we're doing. Please let us know by sending an email to thetactiletraveler@gmail.com We spell traveler the American way with one “L.”  We’d also like to hear your story ideas from all over the world. Send us an email with story ideas in the subject line at thetactiletraveller@gmail.com .

If you would like to help underwrite this program please send us an email with underwriting in the subject line at thetactiletraveler@gmail.com .

Transcripts of this program are also available for our deaf listeners by searching The Tactile Traveler in any search engine.

This program is also being broadcast on the Audio Information Network of Colorado and in additional states. It’s also available by typing “the tactile traveler” into any search engine and available wherever you get podcasts and by asking your smart speaker to play the podcast  THE TACTILE TRAVELER.

This program is also being broadcast on The Audio Information Network of Colorado and in additional states. 

We would like to thank the following people who help make TODAY’S program possible:

Be My Eyes Microsoft Accessibility Tech Support

Apple Accessibility tech support


Daniel Kish

Maurice Peret

Doug Yakel

Cary Cooper

AAnahit LaBarre

Susan RoAnne

Will Schell

Lorraine Hutchinson

Ken Barker

Sarah Williams

Sophia Williams

Lucas Turner

And Raleigh Burleigh


This has been a production of KDNK Community Access Radio, Carbondale, Colorado.

(Upbeat country western tune plays to fade)

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.
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