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Using the long white cane

Primary Tasks

    Secondary Tasks

      Originally published Thursday April 14, 2011 on
      By Bridgit Kuenning-Pollpeter

      The entryway of the Iowa Department for the Blind was warm. Heat streamed out of the vent enveloping me in warmth. I reveled in it as I prepared to step out in the cold of February.

      Flipping the glass lid up on my watch, I felt the raised dots and arrows checking the time. It was now or never. I had been at the training center for two weeks, and after working with an instructor on how to use a long white cane, I was now going out on my own for the first time.

      I took a deep breath and pushed the door open.

      A blast of icy air greeted me as I slid my cane down the first step, my feet following. Repeating this until the final step, I turned south beginning my walk around the block.

      My black heels click-clacked on the pavement as my cane arced left to right. Keeping the motion in a shoulder width pattern, my body avoided collision with parking meters and buildings.

      Halfway down the block, a cold breeze flitted around me, and the faint sound of traffic echoed through the alley separating the Department from the building next door. I crossed the alley, continuing toward Grand Street.

      Traffic in front of me sounded closer. A greasy warmth permeated the air. I wrinkled my nose as I passed the Domino’s on the corner.

      Cars whooshed and rumbled by on busy Grand Street as I turned the corner. My cane tapped against the cement planters which surely were empty in late February.

      My pace remained steady until my cane slid off a curb. Stopping, my ears detected cars to my right. The traffic on Grand was still speeding by. This was the parking garage so I listened to determine if any cars were pulling in or out of the garage before crossing the drive.

      Reaching the other side, my cane found the curb, and I stepped up on the sidewalk.

      Nearing the end of this block, I was elated with my progress.

      Arriving at Fifth Street, whirring, buzzing and hammering blared in the distance. The sounds came from the auto body shop midway down the block.

      The sounds magnified and the temperature changed slightly. I stopped to recognize my surroundings. The traffic was muffled and people shouted over the heavy-metal music mingling with electric screw drivers and the pop of hydraulic car lifts. I realized I had meandered into the body shop.

      Listening to the sound of cars, my cane began its rhythm once more as I left the shop. The air grew chill again, and the buzz of traffic was no longer muffled. Since the sun was beaming today, it assisted me in finding my directions as its weak February warmth flirted on my face. I returned my gate to a quick, succinct pace continuing towards Watson Powel Street.

      My cane soon slid into an object in front of me. Gently tapping it along the object, I discerned a car was parked. Hearing the distant traffic to my right, I knew I was on the other side of the alley by the Department. This must be the mail truck that parked in the alley each day.

      Using my cane to tap around the front of the truck while maintaining the shoulder width motion, I crossed the alley drive.

      My feet started up an incline. This was the wheelchair ramp at the back of the Department. A moment of temptation seized me as I contemplated cheating. It was cold and I wanted back in, but it would be worth it to finish this first independent travel lesson.

      Turning around, I caned back down the ramp. A metallic ring echoed as my cane found the railing along the ramp. I lined myself up using the sun again as a guide and clicked on down to the end of this block.

      Finally, I came to home block. I sidled closer to the brick building. Tapping my cane against the brick, I was searching for the stairs. I tapped my cane to the left on the ground, but tapped against the building on the right so I would find the stairs.

      Sure enough, a quarter of the way down, my cane slid onto the first cement stair.

      Holding the cane in front of me this time, I followed it up the steps. My body prickled as warm air ushered me back into the entry way.

      I opened the second set of doors and walked into the building. The tip of my cane clicked again as I left the rug of the entry way and found the marble floor of the reception area of the department.

      Angling slightly to the left towards the elevator, I smiled. My first outdoor travel lesson, and I made it back in one piece.

      These initial lessons, known as structured discovery, were meant to prepare me for independent mobility anywhere. It is like riding a bike—once you learn, you never forget, and you can hop on any bike and ride it.

      It is confusing and even doubtful for some that the long white cane is an effective tool for independent travel, but if you learn the technique and actually use it, the cane is a powerful and capable tool.

      Eight years later, my travel skills have strengthened, and time and time again, the cane assists me in traveling with independence and efficiency.