That was one of the first questions I asked my eye doctor after I learned my loss of vision was likely to last a long time—perhaps forever.
His answer was somewhat vague. That was when I learned that many splendid and qualified ophthalmologists don’t have firsthand knowledge about how a blind person functions in everyday life. The rehab aspect of helping the blind learn new skills belongs to other specialists.
One of the more challenging areas of the unseen world involves mobility. How do you move around day to day, once eyesight is substantially impaired. My initial ophthalmologist at least sent me to a Braille organization and the people there recommended I try a white cane to get around. Unfortunately their training program was over booked at that time, so I just accepted the white cane they gave me and went on my way.
Several months later when I returned to Albuquerque I found the Services for the Blind state agency and they assigned me a trainer to teach me how to navigate with a white cane. Up to that time I had not realized that the cane I originally received was too short for my needs and as a result I wound up leaning forward while walking and pushing the cane ahead of me like it was a shovel.
With a trainer, I realized that for me, a cane needed to be about 65 inches long. This length allowed me to stand up straight, and reach out further in front of me when I was walking.
On approaching stairs, for instance, I could determine the height of the rise of the steps before I took my first step.
I also experimented with both solid canes, and with collapsible (or telescoping) canes.
For me solid canes are best for most occasions, especially when I am walking long distances. Also, a solid cane is a better communicator of objects and of surface textures, such as whether a walking surface is asphalt, concrete, carpet or tile. And the solid cane does not give way or collapse suddenly.
I do use a telescoping or folding cane when I am traveling in cars or on public transportation including aircraft. Being able to collapse a cane when I reach my assigned seat is a real advantage.
When walking with my cane I usually use a normal hand grip and sweep the cane tip back and forth in front of me as I advance, with the arc reaching out a short distance beyond the width of my body.
In an area crowded with people, I’ll switch to a pencil grip for a more precise, sensitive feel, knowing people are at close quarters. And when standing in a line of people, such as at an airline ticket counter, I may place my cane lightly against the person’s shoe immediately in front of me. This tells me when that person moves forward in the line.
Using a cane is not without an occasional miscue. Once while I was riding in a wheelchair in a long airport corridor, my telescoping cane got caught in the spokes of the wheelchair and splintered like a big toothpick. Fortunately, I carry a backup telescoping cane in my luggage for just such emergencies.
And on another occasion while attending a convention at a large Chicago hotel, when I approached an elevator, some said: “The doors are closing!” My quick reaction was to thrust my cane into the closing doors, thinking the doors would sense the cane and re-open. Then didn’t. Instead, the doors locked onto my cane and then took it with them all the way to the basement. Eventually I got it back, surprisingly unbroken.
White canes do announce to the public that you have impaired vision. Some people are embarrassed to admit they have such a condition. A woman friend once told me that she was embarrassed to be seen with me using a cane.
Since I cannot see how other people are reacting to me, my cane doesn’t bother me at all. In fact, I am thankful I have a cane and know how to use it.
For me, a white cane is simply an extension of my hand and it allows me to operate independently in many, many situations.
Some people have very good experiences with guide dogs, which not only compliment white cane mobility but provide the companionship of a pet as well.
For other people, depending on another person who acts as a sighted guide, is a partial solution to mobility issues.
White canes are available to those with sight impairment from a number of sources including The National Federal for the Blind, which is a national organization, (nfb.org) and a major supply source.
In my next blog I will talk about managing personal finances including cash, bank accounts, and credit cards. So until Blog No. 5 appears—cheers.
– Art Schreiber
Some of my experiences and recommendations are contained in my recently published and award winning book, Out of Sight, Blind and Doing All Right, by Art Schreiber, as told to Hal Simmons.