Sunday, October 01, 2006

Muscle Sense

In Anatomy class, I learned about “muscle sense.” This means you know where parts of your body are. Just by stretching your arms above your head, you know where your arms are. You don’t have to look to make sure it’s there or to watch it to make sure it's doing what you want it to do.

It’s the same when you walk. Do you need to look at your legs to know that they are moving in the direction you want to go? No, you know they are.

What about when you are visually impaired?

Stairs are one of my nemeses. I have no problems going up stairs. It’s in my line of vision. When I go up the stairs, I can see where I am going. But going down steps are altogether a whole different ball game. I have made it a habit to count steps so I know when I get to the bottom. The steps blend together. I can’t tell where the step ends and the next one starts. It really helps when the steps are a different color than the surroundings or if it has a metal strip or some kind of marking on the edges of each step so I can see them. I go down steps carefully, especially if I am not familiar with the area. Cement steps are the worst. They are already grayish in color and that makes things blend. Sometimes curbs blend. (It helps when they are painted yellow.) It’s hard to describe what it is that I see. It’s like there’s no depth perception. They look level. If I am walking around outside, I know where the end of the block is. Then I have to look down and make sure I “find” the curb/step. If I keep my eye on it at a distance, I am fine. But if I am talking and/or walking with someone next to me, it is much harder to stay oriented. It’s too distracting. In a lot of ways, I feel safer when I am walking by myself. I don’t like it when someone is too close to me. (It's the “funnel vision” effect- I see better farther away than up close.) If a person is by my side, I have a hard time staying in step. I need to concentrate on where I am going and it’s hard to do if I am carrying on a conversation. I don’t want to bump into that person, especially when he or she is directly front of me, I may step on the back of his or her heels.

If my kids want to walk ahead of me, they know they have to keep a safe distance. If one of them slows down, they get a painful reminder, especially the youngest, because she is still below my line of vision. This happens because if I am looking straight ahead, I really don't see too much below my nose (though I do have some islands of sight around the sides and bottom).

To stimulate this, try cutting holes out of the bottom of those small bathroom-sized Dixie® cups, hold them against your eyes (like binoculars) and walk around with that. The smaller end of the dixie cup is approximately 10 degrees of central vision. Try it. See how much "muscle sense" you have.


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