Braille Monitor                                                                                                   July 2004

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Of Canes and Misconceptions

Dianne Hemphill
Dianne Hemphill

From the Editor: I recently received the following exchange of letters from Susie Stanzel, president of the NFB of Kansas. She thought that they articulated the ongoing objections that some people have to using the long white cane in training facilities and the reasons why a number of facility administrators have decided to require their use. I agreed, so here are the letters, beginning with a biographical note about Dianne Hemphill, written by Susie Stanzel:

I have known Dianne Hemphill since we both attended the Kansas Rehabilitation Center in Topeka for a college prep course. We saw each other occasionally during college in Emporia. Then we didn't have any contact for several years until she joined the NFB of Kansas South Central Chapter in Wichita. Dianne became the chapter president and the affiliate second vice president. Her passion was employment for the blind. Consequently she was very active in the Job Opportunities for the Blind program (JOB). The Kansas affiliate ran several JOB seminars. When the position of administrator of Kansas Services for the Blind program became available, her selection for the position was unanimous.

Dianne Hemphill currently serves as the administrator of Kansas Services for the Blind and Visually Impaired (KSBVI). Since she began her job in May of 2000, the Kansas agency has undergone many positive changes including a relocation, face-lift and technology enhancement of the residential center in Topeka; curriculum refinements and use of measurable outcomes for participating clients; a renewed emphasis on employment with seminars, work trials, and weekly group discussions focusing on what it takes to become employed; programs advancing diabetic knowledge; evening mentoring programs; monthly assistive technology-training programs for the community; and focus on and expertise in serving those with deaf‑blindness. KSBVI has also partnered with the University of Kansas School of Medicine to add curriculum and training to the ophthalmology residents' program.

The following article is an exchange of correspondence in which Ms. Hemphill responds to a letter she received following imposition of a new policy which mandates the use of the long white cane for clients participating in the center-based training program in Kansas. It is useful to keep in mind the fears and misconceptions some blind people still have about using the long white cane, and it is reassuring to know that some agency officials are helping to spread the truth. Here are the letters:

KSBVI Advisory Committee
Meeting Minutes
September 20, 2003
Attachment Three

September 17, 2003

Hi, my name is _____. I am writing this letter in response to the decision that has been made by Dianne Hemphill, the administrator of the Rehabilitation Center for the Blind and Visually Impaired.

Ms. Hemphill is a member of the National Federation for the Blind, otherwise known as NFB. It is NFB's belief that a blind person who uses a cane should use a straight cane. These canes are outdated, and they are not used by a lot of blind individuals. Even though a few companies are still making the straight cane. The straight cane was the first cane made for the blind but since then there has been improvement to the cane world. A big majority of cane users have and use folding canes.

Ms. Hemphill, as administrator of the RCB, has abused her power by exacting her personal views into her professional life by forcing the O and M Instructor and other staff members at RCB to teach and support her in having all of the clients use straight canes. The enforcement started this month, September 2, 2003.

Both types of canes should be introduced equally to the clients, and it should be up to the client to decide on which cane they will want to use. Any information about the two types of canes should be answered honestly and without any type of personal views.

Example 1:

The straight cane is much harder than the folding cane, so when you hit someone with the cane, it will hurt him or her more.

Example 2:

The straight cane is not flexible in any way.

Example 3:

Where are you going to put the cane when you are out eating at a restaurant without it being in someone's way? So that they do not fall over the cane. No matter how you put the cane under the table, it will stick out.

Example 4:

Where and how will you put the cane up when you are either in public transportation or private transportation, without you hitting someone or a window with the cane?

These are only a few examples that I could come up with off the top of my head. I know that there are other downsides to the use of straight canes.

Unfortunately, NFB feels that if a person that is blind is using a folding cane, they are hiding or denying their disability. I would like to know how that is.

Sincerely,

There you have the consumer's letter. Here is the administrator's response, which was circulated to the advisory group members who received the first letter.

October 8, 2003

Dear ______:

Thank you for your letter of concern dated September 17, 2003, and, as requested, presented at the September 20, 2003, KSBVI Advisory Committee. Your concerns about using the long white cane were discussed. However, the ongoing consensus of the Advisory Committee is that the long straight cane will continue to be used for training while clients are attending the Rehabilitation Center for the Blind and Visually Impaired (RCBVI). The Advisory Committee is composed of members from both the National Federation of the Blind (NFB) and the Kansas Association for the Blind and Visually Impaired (KABVI) as well as others with expertise in the blindness field.

I assure you that I too have heard horror stories of blind people having terrible accidents while using the long, straight canes. I have also heard such horror stories when the individual was using a folding cane or guide dog. The worst of all scenarios, however, is not using a cane at all. Accidents do happen occasionally, and we work diligently to maximize the safety of each RCBVI client participating in orientation and mobility.

A number of factors led to the decision to use the straight cane during rehabilitation at the RCBVI. It is commonly agreed that the straight cane provides much more tactual information than does the folding cane. Becoming comfortable and confident gathering and using the information the cane provides is critical to making progress in traveling in one's environment. Thus using the tool that provides the most information makes good sense, particularly during the RCBVI training program.

Another critical element that supports this decision is choosing the best method to facilitate gaining self-esteem. Many of those who come to us for rehabilitation have some useful but relatively unreliable vision. Typically those with some remaining vision struggle with this new reality, that is, that their vision no longer provides the information they need to function as a sighted person. Many simply fold their canes and hide them in their lockers or purses or leave them in their rooms in order to pretend that they are sighted.

Despite the short time clients have to develop skills at the RCBVI, we want them to leave with the greatest gift of all, self-esteem. We promote this by having clients use their canes at all times. This is much easier when they cannot fold them up and hide them away as one can easily do with a folding cane. Getting past the common embarrassment of using the tools employed by the blind and visually impaired is a significant step in people's becoming comfortable in the new skin they are now wearing.

Finally, many misconceptions about client choice surface when differences of opinion arise, particularly when such issues unsettle the "way it's always been done." When clients receive rehabilitation services, just as when educational programs are in question, students are expected to take on the challenges of the program they have decided to enter. College students are not allowed to avoid courses that are part of the curriculum leading to a particular degree. Likewise, rehabilitation clients do not get to make most of the decisions about how they will participate in the rehabilitation program they have selected. Both educational and rehabilitation institutions are charged with providing programs that allow participants to develop to their greatest potential.

Following the completion of either an educational or rehabilitation program, the student or client has the information on which to base future choices. Our greatest concern is building self-esteem while maintaining safety. Once the long, straight cane has been mastered and its benefits recognized, the client can then make personal decisions based on the information provided and the experience gained.

Sincerely,
Dianne Hemphill
Administrator

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