The Long White Cane and Me
Eye Talk by Annie Schlesinger
By the time I was diagnosed with my eye disease, I was in my forties and legally blind. I had some classes at Braille Institute in Los Angeles and Orientation and Mobility training (O&M). Most of my O&M has been done wearing a blindfold. It was SCARY! My first instructor let me walk in to a wall; he said, “You need to learn!”
For years I didn’t use the cane; I could get around fairly well and only occasionally bumped into people or objects. Luckily I never fell. Like many others I didn’t want to be identified as a blind person; some perceive a stigma about using a cane.
I started using the cane when I was bumping into more people. One woman didn’t accept my apology and shouted at me. She walked away but came back and shouted at me again. I was about in tears. After that I started at least carrying the cane to identify myself. People were nicer and often helpful. I was safer.
The long white cane helps me to scan my surroundings for obstacles and orientation landmarks. The basic technique is to swing the cane side to side no wider than the shoulders, the cane is two steps ahead as one walks. This can be done by tapping the cane in an arc or sliding the cane from side to side, keeping contact with the surface. in close quarters a pencil grip keeps the cane close to the body while still checking ahead. Shore lining is hitting the edge of the sidewalk with each swing.
No matter how skillful I am situations develop. So far I deal with them and go on. In my complex walkways can have obstacles: walkers, carts, baskets and sometimes doors are left ajar. My cane encounters them and I pass safety.
I search for landmarks such as potted plants, changes from carpet to tile and other changes in surfaces. I am alert for ramps, curbs and stairs. Sometimes sounds echo off a surface or a low ceiling; skillful travelers can often detect differences in these sounds.
When do you start to use a cane?
-When you are not effective in getting around,
-When you are relying more and more on help,
-When you become dangerous to yourself and others,
-When you want to be more effective and competent,
-When you want to walk as a blind person with confidence, it’s time to use a long white cane!
NFB.org has instructions for using the cane, “Care and feeding of the long white cane”. It is instructive but I recommend training with an instructor.