Call-to-Action #3

By Lawrence Gunther

This is the third call-to-action directed to sight impaired and blind people to Connect with nature and become a voice for our largely silent earth. We include a list of recent outreach activities taken to inspire and inform people living with vision loss at the end.

Call three has special significance, as many of us in Canada are now fully vaccinated — making it safe once more to connect with friends in the unique ways of vision impaired and blind people. Ways that are safe for us, and just as importantly, safe four our sighted friends and volunteers. This Call-to-Action concerns rebuilding those important relationships that are vital in so many ways for us to experience the outdoors and life itself.

To understand why this Call is so important, we need to understand the context. But first, I want to express my condolences to anyone who has lost a friend or family member to Covid, or who struggled with the disease themselves. Knock on wood, this has not been my experience, but I do know plenty of people whose lives were rocked.

The origins of these calls to action can be traced back to 2007 when I first started blogging on WWW.BlindFishingBoat.Com. The blog set out a strategy for achieving greater independence when experiencing the outdoors by involving less dependence on others. Since then, thousands of visits and emails have confirmed that I’m not the only person with a desire to gain greater freedom to adventure outdoors. Having said that, I also recognize that accessing outdoor experiences by vision impaired and blind people like me depends a lot on friends and volunteers.

In August of 2020 Andy Frank from AMI Audio asked me to amplify my call to action and to share more information about how I and others living with vision loss pursue outdoor adventures. This led to the beginning of the Outdoors with Lawrence Gunther podcast. The goal is to inform and inspire vision impaired, blind and deaf-blind listeners to interface with nature in ways that leverage our various innate communication channels – hearing, touch, smell, taste, sight and sound. And, to build on these strengths to give voice to nature.

Outdoors with Lawrence Gunther launched six months after the pandemic was declared. At that time reports were already surfacing that nature is one of the few safe spaces people seek out to escape from both their places of shelter, and the virus itself. Complicating the production of the podcast, however, was recognition that for most blind and vision impaired people, the sighted assistance needed to access nature now included even more systemic barriers. Traditional transportation was suddenly less safe and counting on friends was no longer an option. Stay at home orders, social distancing, and constantly shifting advice and science about the virus itself meant outdoor adventures for blind and vision impaired people were on pause. The virus may have expanded our virtual worlds, but opportunities for real world outdoor experiences became distant dreams.

People living with vision loss came to the painful realisation that the pandemic meant getting into vehicles with friends was no longer an option. Not necessarily because it was us questioning the risk tolerance levels of our friends, but more our friends who were reassessing the risk to their own lives that we vision impaired and blind people represent.

My friends and volunteers know that I often require a guiding hand to navigate tricky terrain, or that there are many who drive with me in my truck, and that not touching is also not an option – that’s how I see. Everything experts were telling us not to do each and every day in order to stay safe, is how we vision impaired and blind people live our lives. Stop doing what we do meant stop living. I’m someone who is used to going on outdoor adventures 100 days a year. That all had to change.

It’s now time to have conversations with our friends about getting back to normal post-pandemic. We don’t want guilt driving a wedge in our relationships. It’s a painful sliver in our friendships that now needs to be extracted before infection sets in. The last thing any of us want are friends choosing to make social distancing a long-term safety choice. It’s hard enough under ideal conditions to find good friends and volunteers, the pandemic has made this even more challenging.

Some might think I’m making way too much out of this. We all miss our friends and can’t wait to see them again, and even hug them. I’m no different. But, when you introduce feelings like guilt, regret, sympathy, and even fear into a relationship, that’s not easy to move passed.

Letting our friends know that we understand their need to withdraw the assistance we require as vision impaired and blind people to live more fully is a delicate matter. It’s important that they know that we will never hold a grudge. For life and friendships to resume however, we also need to process any of our own residual negative feelings.

We know our sighted friends never stopped pursuing their outdoor lifestyles during the pandemic. People continue to head into nature in numbers never before witnessed. Being left behind may have triggered feelings of abandonment by people living with vision loss, and our friends too may be harbouring lingering feelings of regret for not being able to include us in their outdoor adventures.

Feeling hurt or guilt is natural, but what isn’t healthy is if these feelings become wedges between friends. We must also exercise caution that these feelings do not become reasons to stop doing what brings us so much pleasure over concerns that it makes us vulnerable.

Asking friends for a helping hand, things that they would normally do without thinking twice, might now be perceived as an unacceptable level of risk due to the pandemic. A true friend would never put their own needs ahead of the safety of their friends, and yet that’s often what we do when we pursue outdoor adventures with a sighted companion. Our friends know that adventuring with a blind or vision impaired person entails additional responsibilities, but there are also the heightened risks for all involved.

As vision impaired or blind outdoor adventurers it’s our choice to assume risk, just as it is for anyone else who is sighted. Our friends accept the fact that we are willing to assume greater risks then they might if they were in our place. They also understand that adventuring outdoors with someone who has impaired vision also infers their assuming greater risk to their own safety. They accept that going on outdoor adventures with us includes a level of responsibility for keeping us safe, but who is there to help them should something go wrong?

When I was certified at level C in SCUBA, I understood that I will always need to dive with a sighted buddy. It was also explained that my sighted dive buddy needs their own safety buddy and that this can’t be me. In the largely silent underwater world, quickly locating and helping a sighted dive buddy in distress is infinitely more difficult without sight. It means I’ll always need to SCUBA in groups of three or more.

Planning outdoor adventures involving groups may seem prudent, but it’s seldom the case. For better or worse, my sighted companion and I often have only each other to rely on when challenging situations arise.

At the best of times, asking a sighted friend to participate in an outdoor adventure that they assess as outside of their comfort zone can easily lead to resentment. Years of experience has taught us blind and vision impaired people what our sighted friends deem as acceptable. all this now needs to be reassessed due to the pandemic. Simply assuming that everything will return to the way it was is not reflective of the new reality.

Personally, I’m not much of a complainer. I survive by managing risks. It’s what I learned to do as a life-long blind outdoor enthusiast. I could have chosen to stay home, work, listen to books, and master technology, but I want more in life. I need to be outdoors: fishing, camping, hiking, exploring – it’s what I do.

In many ways the pandemic has been a boom for people with vision loss. Everyone has turned to communicating using technology. Zoom calls, webinars, podcasts, on-line everything – it’s the perfect world for all of us vision impaired and blind people who have surrounded ourselves with tech.

We aren’t people who can just jump on a bike or get in a car and meet up with a friend. We find public transit somewhat stressful due to the inability to read signs, displays, and to properly q-up in lines – never mind find a seat. Not being able to go to concerts or sports events during the pandemic – not an issue– we hardly ever go because they are highly inaccessible. Better to stay home and find an audio-described event online or on TV, or to use a quality speaker to listen to our favorite professionally recorded music. No doubt, the pandemic has been a leveler in many ways.

I’m busier than ever. With everyone having transitioned to communicating online, it’s all I can do to keep up. With two biweekly podcasts to produce, a biweekly newsletter to put out along with an editorial each issue, a script to research and present every two weeks live on AMI TV, demands for on-line presentations higher than ever before, a Great Lakes fish health Network to chair, live Facebook appearances every Monday evening on the Canadian Fishing Network, and work, my days are longer than ever. My wife is concerned that I’m spending way too much time at my desk – 10-14 hours a day, and she’s right.

In June of 2020 I refused delivery of my new boat and told the marina to just sell it – normally I keep the boat until the end of the season before it goes up for sale. A year later I now have a brand-new boat sitting on my driveway – thank you sponsors.

I understand that first people have to feel safe before life for me can return to normal. I have no illusions that I’ll be the first out of the gate. Thankfully, my sponsors have stuck with me, I speak with my friends regularly, my conservation work is growing and rewarding, and my immediate family remains healthy. I feel a strong sense of optimism.

One thing is for certain, people got a taste of what it’s like to communicate electronically, and I believe it’s shifted the landscape. We aren’t going back to business as usual. Technology-supported communications is going to continue to figure in how we conduct all manner of business both personal and professional. Denying someone access to such an essential service due to disability and inaccessibility will become increasingly unacceptable. People now realise just how important it is to be able to conduct transactions remotely, and systemic barriers to these processes will no longer be tolerated.

In the meantime, we need to think about work-life balance. This includes getting outdoors. All work and no play makes for a dull day and can also kill you. Sitting is the new smoking. So as much as it’s tempting to stay plugged in, we all need to un-plug and reconnect with nature the old-fashioned way.

The needs of our planet can also no longer be disregarded. We have climate change to address, habitat to restore, areas of concern to rehabilitate, pollution to put a stop to, and the continuing decline of biomass to reverse.

As tempting as it may seem to flip A switch and resume LIFE where we left off, we first need to attend to our friends and volunteers. To have conversations about risk tolerance — open and honest exchanges to identify and mitigate risks. The better we are at managing risks, the more success we will experience at moving our friendships and lives off-line. It’s what all of us vision impaired and blind people have learned to do, it’s just got a bit more complicated.

Outreach Update

Below is a list of activities dating back to our last call-to-action:

The Top Dog Film Festival is featuring my documentary Makings of a Guide Dog in their international festival covering over 12 countries:

In Episode 25 of Outdoors with Lawrence Gunther we delve into the benefits, challenges and access solutions for building and owning your own cabin retreat as someone without sight:

The University of Guelph Aquaculture Program produced this YouTube video featuring an interview with me about sustainable aquiculture:

On episode 26 of Outdoors with Lawrence Gunther we celebrate World Ocean Day, and the many ways people are learning to listen to underwater worlds:–Recreation-Podcasts/Outdoors-with-Lawrence-Gunther-p1364141/?topicId=163394384

On the Carleton University radio station, I was the guest on the disability program “Welcome to My World”. I spoke with the show’s host about the importance of connecting with friends in nature:

Episode 27 of Outdoors with Lawrence Gunther is all about giant catfish and fishing blind. Dr. Catfish tells listeners about his new e-book “The Giant Collection of Catfish Baits and Rigs and invites listeners to join his blind fishing email list ( Link to the podcast:

On the podcast Eyes on Success, I speak with hosts Nancy and Peter Torpey about my adventures in nature:

In Episode 28 of Outdoors with Lawrence Gunther, learn what it takes to be a competitive blind dragon boat paddler.

I was Naomi’s guest on the Life in Balance podcast where we spoke about how to live life that includes connecting with nature:

Podcast – BALANCE for Blind Adults (

And last-but-not-least, a new episode of Lake2Plate has been uploaded to the Blue Fish Canada YouTube Channel. It features my exploration of the Pontiac region, its organic local growers, vineyards, eco-tourism resorts, and a local forager. I gather together the ingredients along with some freshly caught wild fish for a shoreside feast to celebrate everyone’s hard work and nature’s bounty:


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