What It’s Like: White Cane Use

Imagine for a moment, if you will, that you are standing in the middle of a room with a blindfold on. Moreover, you were wearing that thing when someone brought you in. A long stick that comes up to about your shoulder is pressed into your hand, and then you are left to feel your way around with just the stick.

Do you think you could do it?

Probably not, but to be fair neither could I the first time they handed me a white cane. There is a reason that government funding goes into mobility training. But what is it like?

Honestly, sometimes using the white cane is like navigating byfrustration. After all, hitting the cane against obstacles is basically how we find out that the obstacle is there. Hitting stuff is sort of the point. Constantly hitting stuff is also frustrating.

It works like this. You hold the cane at one end, which usually has a rubber grip on it to make keeping hold of it easier. The cane is extended forward and down with the tip either touching the ground or just above it, depending on the sort of canetip you are using. You then swing the cane from side to side in an arc in front of you as you walk. As your right foot is stepping forward, the cane swings left and vice versa, checking for things in your way. For those who swing without touching the ground, you do need to contact the ground at each end of the swing to make sure the ground is, you know, still there. But some canes, such as mine, have little rolly tips, so the end of the cane stays in contact with the ground. I prefer it, you find a lot of low to the ground obstacles like power cords that way.

However. No matter how good you are, you are going to find cracks or potholes to jam your cane into, which tends to result in a quick jab to the stomach from the top of the cane. Granted, that happens a lot more when starting out, but it still happens with experience. In winter, that cane is going to lodge itself into a snow bank at least once per season, usually more. You are going to splash that sucker into mud puddles. You are going to encounter an obstacle while distracted and have the cane slapped out of your hand.

Like I said, it is like navigating by frustration. But it isn’t all bad. The more you use it, the more you can pick up along that length of white aluminum. I can tell what sort of floor I’m on, and when it’s about to change. I can tell when the surface is starting to slope up or down. I can tell how solid an object I’ve just discovered is.

The cane isn’t perfect, and the cane can’t help much with actual orientation, but you need to be able to use one if yu want to learn how to orient yourself. And if you want a service dog, you absolutely need the cane skills first.

Navigating by frustration isn’t all bad.

Just a final post script note: this post only represents my own thoughts and feelings, not those of the blind community as a whole.

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