Counting Stairs

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Counting Stairs

There are thirteen stairs in both staircases in my house. There are sixteen stairs in the staircase going down to my dance studio. In any given staircase at my high school, there is either 5, 6, 7, 11, or16 stairs. 

Counting stairs makes life easier. It’s a fact I apply in my daily life. Every time I walk up or down a staircase, whether it be new or old, I count under my breath. Then I remember those numbers and hold on to them for dear life. 

Why Count Stairs?

Walking up or down stairs may be no big deal for others. They do it without a second thought. Sometimes they don’t even watch what they are doing. They can actually rely on their peripheral vision to tell them when to step and how many times to step. 

I can’t. Staircases are a much more terrifying climb for me. When I can’t see where the stairs start or end, it is a very real threat that I may fall. And the more uniform the staircase, the harder it is to see the separation between stairs. Don’t even get me started about climbing stairs in the dark. 

That’s why I count. So I can know for sure when to start and stop climbing. Peripheral vision works great, but when you don’t have much of that, numbers are the next best thing. 

So I don’t look down or fumble on staircases that I know, but it’s not because I can rely on my vision. It’s because I can rely on my counting. 

Staircases: Up vs. Down 

There is a difference. A big one. And it all has to do with shadows. It can be hard to describe, so I am going to use some pictures to help. 

Image of a staircase taken from the bottom of the stairs. The contrasting shadows on the stairs demonstrates that is it easier to see the separation from stair to stair.

Climbing Upwards

Up is way easier. I don’t need to count for up at all. I can clearly see the separation between steps because of the shadows from the steps above. There is contrast, and contrast makes it doable. 

Image of a staircase taken from the top of the stars. it demonstrates the lack of contrasting shadows and how the separation between each step is almost undetectable.

Climbing Downwards

Down is a different story. There are no shadows. No contrast. Everything looks like a flat slab with no ledges whatsoever. I have to count to know how many ledges are hiding in the seemingly flat expanse. 

The Flaws With Counting Stairs

Finding stairs

Counting isn’t a perfect end-all solution. It helps to know how many steps lie before me, but remember that endless expanse that I face when I go down stairs? Counting isn’t going to help me find those hidden ledges. It only lets me know how many there are to find. 

Finding the first few is the hardest. I have to feel with the toe of my shoe until I find the drop and then step down. Once I get past those first few, I find the rhythm of the staircase and can figure the rest of the way down. 

New Stairs

Counting is completely helpless when I come across a new set of stairs. I’m obviously not able to count new stairs until I climb them, so that first climb has to be done without the counting method. 

Other Habits

Counting stairs is a unique habit that has a direct tie to my vision. It’s a part of my everyday life that helps me get through a challenging normalcy in an easier way. This isn’t the only trick I use to make life work for me. 

I have a few other habits that help me deal with my low vision:

  • Giving objects a “spot” in drawers or bags. This allows me to just grab something without looking rather than searching around in a dark drawer. 
  • Using my peripheral vision. When I find myself in the dark, I use my peripheral vision to figure out my surroundings. There is a scientific reason why this works that has to do with the location of rods vs. cones in the eye. All that really matters, though, is that it works, and it comes in handy. Trust me. 
  • Using touch over sight. The sense of touch is a trick in itself. There are so many times daily when I catch myself feeling my way through a task that others would use their eyes for. I do it even when I don’t have to. It’s habit. Things like buckling a seatbelt, tying my shoes, or cutting veggies (this one scares my mom). There are a thousand more examples of things I feel my way through, but I made my point. 

My low vision lands me doing many things like counting stairs to aid in every day life. Little tweaks I make to normal tasks to modify them for my use. It’s something I have learned over years of experience dealing with a vision impairment in a seeing world. It’s called adapting and everyone has to do it in their own way. I found mine and I hope that all of you can find yours. 


To read about one of my vision related staircase struggles, check out my previous blog post Annoying Kindnesses.

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