The Braille Monitor                                                                                               April 1997

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A Letter from the Trenches: Straight Talk About Cane Travel

by Georginia Kleege

From the Editor: Listening to erudite discussions among orientation and mobility instructors about cross-body technique, shorelines, hand position, and arc-width, its easy to forget that the fundamental principle of successful cane travel is to use a long white cane efficiently to find out as much as possible about the terrain immediately in front of one. As the writer of the following letter says, "It isn't rocket science." It is mostly common sense and enough practice to gain confidence in the tool and the technique. As the preceding two articles demonstrate, these ideas are heresy in some circles, but to Georginia Kleege they just make sense. Here is the letter she wrote to the National Federation of the Blind:

Columbus, Ohio July 29, 1996
National Federation of the Blind
Baltimore, Maryland

Dear NFB:

This is a letter of thanks to the NFB in general and to the staff of the materials center in particular.

I recently ordered a white cane from the materials center and want to express my appreciation to the employee who answered the phone (sadly I didn't get her name) for all the help and advice. I was prompted to call the NFB when my local rehabilitation agency refused to sell me a cane because I have not received mobility instruction from their specialists. I am, to use the experts' phrase, "legally blind with some usable sight." I have been blind for almost thirty years but never received mobility instruction because the experts felt I didn't need it.

I made clear that I was willing to pay for my cane myself and that I would even pay for mobility instruction if they insisted, but I was unwilling to have my case reopened and my needs re-evaluated. By their standards my needs have not changed because my vision has not changed. It's true that I can see most obstacles in my path, and I seldom bump into pedestrians or fire hydrants. But I cannot, for instance, always see traffic signals. I have learned to interpret traffic sounds to know when to cross the street. When I ask strangers for directions, they usually assume I can see where they're pointing. When I explain that I cannot, they often become confused, distressed, or so overly solicitous that it turns my simple request into a major ordeal. Do I need a white cane to get where I want to go? Perhaps not, but it seems to me that a white cane will help me get there with greater safety and less embarrassment for all concerned.

I am so grateful that the NFB was there to call. The staff member at the materials center answered my questions without making me feel foolish, recalcitrant, or self- pitying. I am also grateful that I have friends, NFB members and others, who have offered to help me get started. And I have read Care and Feeding of the Long White Cane, which I found extremely useful. The instructions are so clear and down-to-earth, I feel I can learn cane travel from the book alone. Cane travel is not rocket science. I feel confident that with practice I can learn it.

I am sure the experts would not like to hear this. If everyone learned cane travel from a book and their friends, someone might be out of a job. Fortunately, the NFB gives blind people an alternative to such experts and their opinions.

Thank you.

Sincerely,

Georginia Kleege
Member, NFB of Ohio