“Dad, mind your step” my daughter WY said. I could clearly sense her deep concern judging from the tone of her voice. This happened when I was just about to make my first step in boarding the KTM Commuter train at the Kuang station, located not far from my humble abode. This simple ‘historical and maiden step’ too was my first after my loss of sight slightly more than a year ago. The ‘gap distance’ between the edge of the platform and the train door opening was shocking as I did not realize that I could easily miss the wide gap, slip and fall down between the train and the platform, thus causing undue serious injuries! As I could not see, I had gotten into putting my faith in my ole’ faithful white walking cane in my daily orientation and mobility tasks. My heart almost stopped when my white cane suddenly registered a potential danger zone ahead and promptly ‘informed’ me that the gap was too wide for my normal walking step distance between strides. Suddenly too, I felt a reassuring touch and hold on my shoulders from a kind stranger standing behind me and he coolly said “OK, take a big step.” Well, as I could not see, I did not know what a big step was supposed to be, so I took the biggest step ever in my life stepping into the train! As I sat down in the comfortable air conditioned train, I heaved a sign of relief and quietly said to myself, “What a shocking start to my first ever train ride after my sight loss.”
Earlier on, the same morning, WY who had recently returned home from a two year working and holiday stint in the UK, suggested that we take a train ride down to KL Central Station to get myself familiarised with the route and work on my mind mapping skills. She too, had been a loyal follower of my blog and she remembered about one of my challenging tasks ahead is to be able to travel independently between the Kuang station and the KL Central Station, walk out from the station, cross the busy roads, walk to the MAB, Malaysian Association for the Blind and vice versa. I was a bit hesitant then but WY coolly reminded me what WJ said before, “Let’s do it and make it happen!” This phrase again jolted me in uplifting my spirits almost immediately. So, it’s Hello and Welcome MIH (make it happen) and Goodbye to Procrastination! After parking the car at the station’s parking lot, I told WY that I would attempt to walk unaided to the ticket counter, walk across the pedestrian overhead bridge to the train boarding platform and I would have to listen and follow her instructions in helping me to achieve the challenging tasks ahead.
As the train was about to arrive at the KL Central station, good recorded voice system announcing each approaching station, it occurred to me that I must remember to know which side of the train that I would need to disembark on arrival and it was important that I sit or stand at the correct location situated nearest to the exit door enable me to disembark with ease. When the train door opened upon arrival at the KL Central station, WY quickly said “OK, you can step on the platform without a big step” and explained that the gap between train and platform was minimal. “OK, you can start shouting instructions” I said to WY as we began another phase in my mobility lessons about getting out from the platform, up the escalator and proceed to the main exit barrier. My daughter, my mobility instructor for the day! As we stood outside the exit barrier, I reminded WY to brief and describe to me in detail about the vicinity, my position in relation to the bearings and look out for the grooved tiled walking guide tracks, not easily visible to the sighted and not easily detectable to the sightless. The noise made by the large crowds walking about doing their own business was quite an earful so I really had to gear into extreme focus and attention in registering the various landmarks and locked it into my mind. WY was, too, in full focus and provided me very clear instructions and directions now and then. As we approached the area where the buses/coaches were parked in transit, the noise generated from the vehicles was simply too loud. Surely, it must have exceeded the allowable 85 to 87 decibels! I had to listen and hear very carefully the traffic noise as I had to cross the road to continue to walk to the main roads to MAB which is located across the road, the opposite side of the main KL Central station. This phase of walk was more difficult due to the ongoing building construction work, and the diversion for walking pedestrians made haphazardly. Still, we made it to the traffic lights, another important landmark for me to note. We stopped at this traffic lights junction and again, WY briefed and described to me in detail about the surroundings, etc. It is very important for me to know where I am and be able to visualize or see what is around or nearby as this will help me in improving my mind mapping skills and, therefore, be able to walk with confidence, exercising caution in safety at all times whenever I am on my own in the future.
I did not attempt to cross over to the opposite side of the road which would also enable me to continue walking towards the MAB complex. I will continue this next phase of my mobility lessons in the very near future. So, after more briefings and debriefings from my new mobility instructor for the day, I turned around, backtracked and walked to the main station. My mind mapping skills again, was put to a tough test in remembering the various landmarks, etc in enabling me to locate the KTM Commuter train ticket counter to purchase a ticket for the return journey. I managed the task quite well but needed to stopped now and then to recheck my bearings in relation to the intended destination. A ‘natural built in GPS system” coming into play in providing mental maps, so to speak! It was again, a comfortable train ride on the return leg of the journey. It was indeed a train ride that was both enjoyable and educational to me as part of my rehabilitation in achieving independence after the loss of my sight.
More challenging times ahead!