In LOTEM, we guide groups of people with special needs in nature and after a year, I can say wholeheartedly that I have gained experience working with a wide range of populations.

But then one Sunday a few weeks ago, I was informed that I would be guiding a group of people with hearing impairments. I was excited, but it was hard for me to imagine how it would work.

I decided right away that I would need to prepare long in advance. But how to prepare for a group that I hadn’t yet had the opportunity to lead? Luckily, we have a LOTEM branch in Jerusalem, and one of their guides, Adi, had already guided groups of people with hearing impairments. Her tips:

1.) Instruction of people with hearing impairments is done with the eyes. Therefore, it’s important for every stop along the trail to be in a comfortable and spacious place so that each person would be able to see the guide and, more importantly, the interpreter.

2.) Speak in a focused manner.

3.) Emphasize the sense of sight and prepare a very visual outing.

With these concepts in mind and much excitement in my heart, I went to greet the group that arrived from Tel Aviv. I saw the bus approaching and my heart pounded. I began walking up the steps and after just seconds it became clear to me that this was going to be an amazing day.

The smiles were very wide. I said “good morning” to some of the participants using sign language I had learned a few days earlier, which made them very enthusiastic.

The rest of the day was like a dream. Guiding them was very fun, just different from usual. When I spoke, the eyes of the participants were not turned towards me, but to the interpreter. Initially, I felt a bit uncomfortable with that, but very quickly I understood that this was part of the day and for them, part of life.

Some names and concepts, such as “water line” do not exist in sign language; I wrote those on a board and showed them to everybody.

The participants were very complimentary throughout the day. They taught me many words in sign language and were very happy when they saw that I had learned them and was using them in the right context.

That day we hiked on a trail around the summit of the Meron Mountain and we visited the grave of the Rashbi. Before evening, we arrived in Tzfat and toured the city.

Each time that I think about this outing, a big smile appears on my face. I am sure that it will remain like this always.

Tali Nahir is in her second year of her required military service, serving as a soldier guide with LOTEM – Making Nature Accessible. LOTEM is the leading organization in Israel providing accessible hikes and educational activities to people with special needs. A JNF partner organization, LOTEM serves over 30,000 participants a year.