Friday, 25 February 2011

Long white cane

It was several months after falling down the stairs at home before I resumed my mobility training and was eager to get on with it. Before I started on my long cane training, I did a refresher’s course which was proved to be very useful and did help to improve my confidence. It was now the turn of the long cane, the first four sessions were held at a Community Hall. The purpose of the long white cane is to allow the user to detect obstacles at ground level that could be hazardous such as kerbs, steps, cars parking on a path even though it is against the law while allowing users to use their remaining vision to look ahead and to look from one side to the other and to look down just occasionally. One of the symptoms of my eye disease is a loss of peripheral vision which is often called "tunnel vision"; this suggests what a good mobility tool the long white cane could be for people who have sight problems and who have lost some or all their peripheral vision.
 First I practised walking with the cane in the hall and then had a go on the stairs; I was okay on the stairs/steps. As you will already know there are different types of stairs, some have handrails; there are some with landings and some with turns. When a handrail is present I have to put the hand that is nearest on the handrail, my other hand works the cane. I rest the tip of the cane on the second step in front of me and as I go down the stairs the cane tip slides forward and drops down to the next step. When it stops dropping and maybe slides a bit on the ground then I know that I am two steps from the bottom. When going up I do the same basic thing except the cane won’t do the slide and drop thing. I hold the cane, gently keeping it upright and then lightly press the cane against the step and slide it up to the next step keeping the cane ahead of me by two steps. When the cane reaches the top it has no step to press against so I will know that I have two steps left before I reach the top. To find out how wide the stairs are, I move the cane across from one side to the other and this will also tell me if there are any objects on the stairs.
Later, I practised walking along a pavement which I found very troublesome because of the poor condition of the pavements, my long cane kept finding the holes and getting trapped, then there was a car parked half way on to the pavement. On approaching a corner I was told to pay attention to what clues was available, as it was a route that I would use regularly and it was essential for me to have a clue. After sorting that out I learned how to get round the corner. Before crossing the road, I had to listen for any traffic coming and determine which way they were travelling, I found this hard at first but with practice found that I was able to distinguish which way the traffic was travelling. If I could hear traffic coming and I was standing close to the kerb, drivers will most likely think I am trying to cross the road and will probably stop and shout to me that it’s okay to cross over. I have been told to say thank you and then wave them on. When standing at the kerb if I could not hear any traffic coming or see any traffic with the limited vision that I have got then I would cross the road otherwise I step back and wait a bit longer. We practised crossing the road and then it was time to return home and this was when the problems started!  I was facing the sun and could not see a thing, unfortunately the glare from the sun makes my eyes run and then everything became blurred and I could not see where I was going making me feel disorientated.  I was told to try and keep going which I did because I knew that my rehabilitation worker would stay near me and eventually I was in the shade. It left me feeling a bit insecure and lacking confidence but I intend to persevere with the training but I did wonder what I had let myself in for! 
When walking along with the long white cane it would sometimes get trapped in a hole or a rough area which result in me getting a jab in my abdomen. I avoided this by holding the cane a little to the right of my body; I found it easier and was told that as long as I was comfortable, it would be satisfactory. After a couple of sessions though, I started to enjoy working with the long cane but I still had my reservations.  Would the long cane be a hindrance when in busy places, would people move out of the way and let me pass or would they trip over my cane, they may not see me coming probably because they are busy talking on their mobile phone or they may be looking in a shop window and suddenly turn and trip over my cane.
The long white cane that I am using has a roller tip which maintains contact with the ground as I walk along, this will indicate changes in the surface such as when I am walking on the pavement and I accidently walk on to the grass verge, I will immediately notice the change in texture and then realise that I have walked on to the grass verge.
After several sessions with the long white cane I found that I was becoming more confident and I was beginning to enjoy walking out with the long white cane. I never thought that I would ever say that!  The long white cane is a very useful and effective mobility tool and though I resisted at first to learn how to use the long white cane, I am so pleased that my rehabilitation worker quietly explained to me the advantages of the long white cane. There were some problems, I found that there were times when I had difficulty in distinguishing between the green grass and dark or mid-grey pavements which was mainly because I could not distinguish between the two colours and so would sometimes end up walking on the grass, however I was shown how to overcome this problem.
To be honest, any journey that I take can be dangerous, for roads and streets can be hostile to anyone with sight loss. Pavements and road works have to be navigated, and there are the cars parking on the pavements just to name a few. On one occasion, I was out walking using my long white cane near my home when I heard a voice saying “Excuse me please”. I was not certain where the sound was coming from but soon realised that it was coming from behind when a girl, aged about eight, on her cycle literally flew past me. I was so pleased that I did not stop and turn around or she could have knocked me over.


  1. You have so much to learn and deal with just to do the things that a lot of us take for granted. We spoke the other day about people trying things like watching the t.v. with no sound or having the volume and a blindfold, to experience the difficulties. Well tonight I tried bathing with the light off. I could see a faint amount but it was really difficult. I don't think I would ever want to even try to make a cup of tea. I would most likely scold myself.

  2. You explained this so well! I found myself nervous at first when going through cane training but found that when people see the cane they turn and walk the other way so as to not get in my way. But the cane is really helpful!

  3. Hello Trista,
    When I go out with my long cane I have found that some dogs do not like the noise that the cane makes, they start barking and growling at me have you experienced that?