White Cane Training
So, today I have had my first initial professional white cane training. A few different words spring to mind as a result of this, and they are:
Inspired, Confidence, Smiling, Relief and Enabled
Why these words? Inspired, Because my general feeling of wellbeing (which has taken. battering since loosing some of my sight) has been lifted, my burden somehow feels lighter. As a result of this, my Confidence to actually go out by myself, independantly is at a much higher level.
I can actually feel the Smile on my face. ( I have always smiled a lot, people know me because of my smile, and often commented that I’m always smiling. However, a lot of my smile over recent months disappeared due to my sight loss, and the feelings of grief and despair this gave me ) Relief that I can actually walk out on my own without as much fear of tripping or walking into things is insane.
As a result of this, I feel Enabled once again as a person. Wow, how amazing do I feel? How amazing am I?
Before being shown the basic principles or using the white cane, I kind of feared it, felt that if I used it, then it would define me, but I’m finding the reality very different to this. The word Enable keeps popping into my head. White Cane and Enable become the same. Why so?
Enable, Easily Navigate Around. Blind Living Enabled.
Powerful, right? I love it, enable, enable, enable
What does the white cane do?
The white cane is a very simple, very tactile tool that enables you to feel, to “see” whats around you. It also allows other people to see you, to notice you and to be aware that you have visual problems. As such, in general these people are often more accepting and understanding that you may need occasional assistance and a little room to manoeuvre.
The feedback the cane gives me from my environment around me is amazing. I can feel the different textures of the ground beneath me, so for example, the grass feels different to the pavement. I know when there is a change in the unevenness of the ground beneath me, a raised flag, a kerb or a step up. When an obstacle is approaching ahead or to the side of me,I know about it before walking into it, therefore enabling me to navigate around it much easier than without it.
The long white cane, or Guide cane should be the right length for you. It should be from floor to your sternum when held upright. So, for me, I am am 5′ 11″ and my white cane is 130cm in length from tip to top of handle. This way, when held in front of you, it gives you two paces ahead of where you feet are. Therefore, the cane will detect a change, an obstacle two paces before your feet actually get to the same place . In. real terms this means that the white cane will find the kerb two steps ahead of my feet, allowing me to navigate the kerb instead of tripping down or up it. It will find an obstacle allowing me to walk around it as opposed to walking into it.
The white cane allows me to look ahead instead of at my feet all of the time. It allows me to see what’s around me, to walk with more confidence. Without the cane, I tend to walk, with my head down, watching where my feet are going. If I don’t, then I trip down kerbs or over uneven surfaces. However, when looking at my feet all of the time when I walk, I often walk into objects in front or to the side of me. The white cane is an amazing bit of kit.
How do you use the white cane?
The most important thing is to be relaxed with it. Not to be stiff with it. Hold it in front of you, diagonally, and to the centre of your body, rather than to the side. The handle of the white cane has one side that is flat, so you simply hold it with your index finger along the flat side. ( A bit like you would hold a golf club ). It’s all in the wrist action. Gently sweep the cane from side to side in front of you. Before I was shown how to do this properly, when practicing, my shoulders would be stiff, I would be a little hunched over, concentrate on the tip of the cane instead of my feet and swipe the cane wildly from side to side as far as my arm could reach! God help anyone at the side or in front of me!
However, now that I have been shown, you only need to sweep the cane gently from side to side, just a little wider than the width of you. This way, you then know if there is sufficient room ahead and to the side of you to walk through.
Once you have this natural sweeping motion going on, you can coinfidently walk, with your head looking forward and to glance from side to side as you normally would when walking when you have full vision. The white cane, in effect gives you the “vision” you need to navigate around the environment safely. The “vision” however is replaced by the cane and the feeling, the sensing of the environment.
Navigating steps with a white cane
When I walk up and down my steps at home, I am totally familiar with them. I know how many there are, how wide they are and how deep they are. I still, since loosing my sight, occasionally trip or miss one, unless I’m counting them as I walk, or staring down at my feet.
The cane makes navigating ANY steps much easier than without it. Walking as normal towards the steps, the tip of the cane will naturally find the bottom of the first step two paces before your feet will. As the tip of the cane touches the step, you walk up to where the cane is touching. The cane then stands upright against your body. Your feet, at this point are touching the base of the first step. Place the tip of the cane onto the first step, this then tells you the height of the step.
You then hold the cane in your hand differently than normal. Lifting it off of the floor, and with your fingers around the base of the handle. If you imagine how a pendulum in a grandfather clock gently swings from side to side, you hold the cane like a pendulum, but gently swinging it backwards and forwards in front of you, as opposed to side to side. With the tip of the cane raised off of the floor gently swing it forward until it touches the front of the next step, then move your foot to the next step and so on. When you get to the top of the stairs, you will know, because the cane will then simply swing forward without touching another step.
To come down the stairs again, hold the cane in front of you, but have it touching the ground with the same grip as if you were walking. The tip of the cane will then naturally drop in front of you as it goes beyond the edge of the first step. Drop your foot down and keep pushing the cane forward, it will then drop off of the next step and so on until you reach the bottom. You will know when you have reached the last step, as when you push the cane forward, it will no longer drop, but will slide across the ground.
Sounds complicated, but, it really isn’t. And you quickly get into a natural walking stride.
You can walk as fast or as slow as you would normally walk with your white cane. You don’t have to move like a sloth! Unless your natural walking stride is like a sloth of course.
Navigating in general with a white cane
Once you have the correct positioning and swing of the cane mastered, you simply walk around as you naturally would if you had full vision, the cane being your eyes. When the cane touches something at the side of you, you navigate around it, when it touches something ahead of you, you navigate around that.
I hope this post has given you a little insight into using the white cane and the benefits it gives to a visually impaired person. I also hope that for those with full vision who are reading this, that you are more aware of what a white cane is and what it does for someone with visual problems, that you are more understanding and accepting of their needs.
For me, my fears of using the white cane are somewhat diminished, my anxiety around what people will think of me if they see me with a white cane have more or less gone. I don’t really care what people think in this regard anymore. The people who are important to me, that I care about and who care about me are the people that matter, and I know that they only wish the very best for me.
The white cane enables me to walk with more confidence, to be more independent and to not imprison myself at home. I now also know that by using it, I am letting people know that I have a visual problem, so they can be more accepting and help me when I’m struggling. Without the white cane, I bump into things and people, and this can be very frustrating for the people I bump into and humiliating for myself. So, the white cane helps everyone.
I would be very interested to hear your comments on the white cane, as clearly this post is all MY perspective.