Future Reflections Winter 1996, Vol. 15 No. 1
About the Author
Thomas Bickford became blind at the age of seventeen from glaucoma. Mr. Bickford started using a cane during the summer between high school and college because his sight was fading past the point of usefulness for travel. He learned some basic cane techniques from a fellow college student. After college, he attended the California Orientation Center for the Blind where, among other things, he took formal instruction in cane travel and met and joined the National Federation of the Blind. Mr. Bickford holds his B.A. degree from Occidental College, Los Angeles, and his M.A. degree from the University of Iowa, Iowa City. For the past twenty-six years Mr. Bickford has worked for the Library of Congress, National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped in Washington, D.C. He makes his home in suburban Maryland with his wife and two daughters. Since people ask how much a blind traveler can see, Mr. Bickford speaks of himself as "very totally blind."
TO L. Q. "Larry" Lewis. May he rest in peace because I walk with confidence.
This booklet contains the experience and observations I have gained over many years as a cane traveler. My hope is to share these experiences and observations with you. But the booklet cannot go with you to say, "You are doing that right, but you need to do it twenty-five or thirty times, not just two or three times." It cannot say, "Swing your cane farther to the left, but not quite so far to the right." The booklet cannot follow you around the block to say, "Yes, this block really does have four corners, but you were off course when you went around one of the corners, and you didn't recognize it." The booklet cannot tell you at which moment it is safe to cross a street, nor should it try to tell you where particular obstacles are. To become an independent traveler you must, and I believe you can, learn to take care of yourself. The best thing this booklet can do for you is to help you come to the time when you don't need it.
A skilled and knowledgeable teacher might help you learn that combination of skills that make up cane travel, and the process might go faster. Such a teacher could present new challenges at the right time or help review persistent problems. I think of this part of the process as "guided practice," and it was very helpful to me. If you had such a teacher, you might not be reading this booklet, so let's get on with the process.
"In avoiding the discomfort of fearful feelings you also eliminate the opportunity for courageous actions, ... and the emotional maturity such action develops. If you happen to feel fear, and who doesn't, don't duck it; use it." Nancy Mairs. Carnal Acts. New York: HarperCollins, 1991.
"We should use technology only where it's necessary. Throughout my career in this field there have been flurries of interest in mobility devices, and I've always felt that the ordinary cane, which is technologically simple, is, in fact, very sophisticated and sufficient for the job." Raymond Kurzweil. Technology Producers Present Their Views: the First Panel, Remarks by Raymond Kurzweil. The Braille Monitor, January, 1992, p. 22.