Blind People Want To Know: Where Did The We Count Our Steps Thing Come From

Last Updated on: 31st July 2017, 12:17 pm

Dear Sighted World:

It’s me, a blind fellow. My blind girlfriend and I would like you to answer a question for us, if it’s not too much trouble.

This idea that all blind people count every step we take as one of the primary ways of knowing where we are at all times…where did that come from, exactly? A lot of you seem to swear by this as the gospel truth, but we’re completely stumped as to why.

I’ve been blind since the day of my birth, which took place right near the end of the 70’s. Carin is a few months older than I, but also born blind. That means that combined, the two of us have nearly 65 years of sightless experience between us. In that time, we have learned many things, often times differently than the way the rest of you must learn them. We figure out how to size things up with our hands and ears rather than by looking at them. We learn to read using Braille. We learn the art of walking around with a cane or a dog. But can you guess how many people have taught either of us to count steps while walking in all these years? That would be one. Yes, just one. Carin had a mobility instructor who tried that once and almost immediately failed. Carin, at the tender age of 8, realized that this was not going to work, because it doesn’t. But yet here you all are, constantly asking us if we count our steps, or even telling other people to be quiet or stop talking to us so that we don’t get our counts thrown off and become lost.

and so we ask again, where did this come from? If it were only older people who asked it would make complete sense. Perhaps it was something taught in the 30’s, 40’s or 50’s. One of those really inefficient methods of doing things that existed everywhere but technology and education have pretty well stamped out. But it’s not just the elderly or getting there. It’s everyone. Folks a little older than me, people my own age and even some younger. It spans generations, and no blind person I’ve ever had this conversation with has any idea why. Did we miss a movie that all of you saw? Is there a secret book that you’ve all read but no blind person is allowed to look at? What is it?

Listen. No matter what anybody tells you or what you may think, we don’t do that. Like I said before, it doesn’t work. Different situations call for different stride lengths. My steps will be different if I’m in a crowd and having to walk slowly than they would be if I’m jogging, sprinting or even walking more briskly than usual. And what if something gets in my way? It means extra steps to get around it, so again the system fails.

We do count things, but they’re other, more logical things like how many streets we have to cross before we make a turn or how many parking lots we pass before we get to the plaza we’re looking for. Or in the case of poor Carin who got dinged by the step counting menace by the Guelph Mercury a few weeks ago, platform signs.

Carin Headrick carefully counts her steps, tapping her white cane against the benches as she walks beneath the canopies at the new bus terminal.

As a person who is visually impaired, she said it was important for her to get her bearings around the new north end of Carden Street, especially now that it is set to become the transportation hub of the city.

Yes, there was careful counting going on, but it was the number of poles and benches between destinations, not steps.

I could do my own Googling and maybe narrow it down, but it would be much more useful and fascinating to know where all of you heard it. So unless it really is a secret that you’re holding over us as a weird form of torture or somesuch, please, fire away.

Thanks in advance,

Blind People Everywhere

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  1. As far as I can recall, it’s something I heard from other people. But even as a small child I was suspicious of the truth of this information, for precisely the reason you stated; different situations call for different stride lengths.

    1. Thanks for the comment.

      I’m happy to hear that you weren’t so sure about the truthfulness of this. Most people, when somebody explains this to them, their minds are completely and utterly boggled. Sometimes it seems like they think I’m either stupid and can’t possibly know what I’m talking about or that they think I’m just lying to them for fun.

    1. At least counting the stairs makes sense. There are always the same number of them unless they remodel the building.

      I don’t make a regular thing out of it, but ‘ve found myself counting stairs in my head before. Not because somebody taught it to me as a good idea, but just because for some reason I did on ones I used a lot.

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