Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Traveling with the white cane

"Within a couple hundred feet of Blind Industries and Services of Maryland, Michael Hutchison smacks into the grass and passes out, briefly losing conciseness. This was following his lesson of crossing Patapsco Avenue for the first time ever, after he tried to find his way back and became lost before eventually finding his way."

Without a doubt I love shooting feature stories. Sure there is nothing like being on the sideline of a great action sports game or being one-on-one with a subject for a portrait. But it will always amaze me when I get to see the best or worst day of someone's life when they allow me into their world so I can help tell their story.

One of my favorite stories I worked on this summer was with Baltimore Sun reporter Scott Calvert. I found myself working with him a lot this summer and had a great time with him.

What was nice about Scott was we both knew how one another other worked, so we knew when one of needed to do our job and when not to get in the others way.

For this story, we followed a blind Micheal Hutchison, who at the time was learning to use a white cane from Blind Industries and Services of Maryland. Of all his challenges, Crossing Patapsco Avenue solo was only one in the process.

My plate was full before meeting Hutchison. I had an assignment before, I needed to shoot video in addition to my stills. Not to mention, I had never shot a story on someone who is blind before Hutchison.

Before getting to the assignment I needed to pick up a video camera from the office. I thought this would be a simple task since prior to my years of primarily shooting photos, I predominantly had a video camera in my hand.

However, the other photographers and reporters had the better, nice video cameras signed out, so I got stuck with the tiny, no external mic, horrible, small camera. But I decided to make do with it anyways.

After meeting up with Scott, we proceeded to follow Marco Carranza of Blind Industries and Services of Maryland and Hutchison out to a super busy intersection nearby.

Carranza, a teacher, trains fellow blind people to walk with white canes, including Hutchison, whom was attempting to cross busy Patapsco Avenue solo.

As we made our way to the intersection, cars zoomed by, dogs barked and I got nervous. This wasn't Hucthison's first time navigating on the streets, but it was the first time I'd ever seen anyone who is blind try and find their way around outdoors on the road.

At times I simply closed my eyes and tried to use my own senses to see how difficult it was for him. It's absolutely fascinating the things those with limited or no vision at all can accomplish.

For someone like myself who uses their vision every day with photography, it's amazing how we take our ability to see for granted.

So as the afternoon progressed, we waited. And waited. Then waited some more. This was six lane intersection that I would have trouble crossing myself. No joke.

Hucthison stood on the corner trying to determine when would be the safe time to cross. He puffed on little cigars and stood on the edge of the curb nervously with his white cane.

Then out out of the blue, he darted for the other side of the road. However, he started heading right into on coming traffic before he corrected himself and then finding himself stranded on the middle island of the road.

After successfully crossing the street and than back again, he was patted on his back and told to go on his way. So Scott and I followed him back finishing up our story on our way.

But that's when the real story unfolded.

During our time out there he kept talking about how difficult it was to make the right judgment and how he had relayed on his eye sight all his life, so trying to distinguish what's coming from either direction was his biggest test.

It was a hard exam, because Hutchison got completely lost. What was normally a five-minute walk turned into a 30-minute escapade.

Walking in the wrong direction, into cars and ignoring help from strangers we weren't sure if he'd ever make it back.

Then he finally found the cross walk back to Blind Industries and Services of Maryland, but after making it across the street he passed out and blacked out. I documented the moment and then looked over at Scott. Our ethics came into play.

Do we remember we are human and help him? Or do we stand objective as we journalist should? Scott called him name. No response. Scott tried shaking his arm. No response. Then luckily an employee of Blind Industries and Services of Maryland who was leaving saw us in trouble and came to our aid. He opened up his eyes.

Hucthison was OK, but very shaken up. Apparently he has had troubles with high blood pressure and that hasn't help after recently losing his vision. It was a long day for him.

I left the assignment with a profound respect for the blind and all my senses in general. I'll close this post out with a quote from Hucthison:

"It [being blind] has it's struggles, but anything in life is like that, and the more I adjust to it, it gets better and better."


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