The National Federation of the Blind Magazine for Parents and Teachers of Blind Children
Volume 27 Number 2 Cane Travel and Independence
Barbara Cheadle, Editor
Copyright © 2008 National Federation of the Blind
For more information about blindness and children contact:
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Volume 27 Number 2 Cane Travel and Independence
FROM THE EDITOR
WHO NEEDS A CANE?
Blind Enough for a Cane?
by Carrie Gilmer
Mobility: Kyra Prepares for High School
by Barbara Mathews
From Tumbles to Triumphs: Using a Cane from a Wheelchair
by Treva Olivero
by Stephanie Kieszak-Holloway
Big Brother has a Cane; Little Sister Wants One, Too
by Carrie Gilmer
How I Learned to Stop Worrying and My Daughter Learned to Love the Cane
by Patricia Renfranz
Step Toward Equality: Cane Travel Training for the Young Blind Child
by Fredric Schroeder, PhD
O&M Assessments: Erring on the Side of Positive Expectations
by Douglas C. Boone
A Good Orientation and Mobility Program in the Public Schools
by Denise Mackenstadt, NOMC
TOOLS AND TECHNIQUES
My Introduction to Sleepshades and Independence
by Craig Eckhardt
Stepping Out: One Mom’s Sleepshade Experience by Connie Bernard
Common Questions about Canes and Cane Travel
Street Crossing with Lights: Basic Skills
by Doris Willoughby and Sharon Monthei
Public Places: Going through Buffet Lines, Carrying Trays, and Using Elevators
by Maria Morais, Paul Lorensen, Roland Allen, Edward C. Bell, Arlene Hill, and Eric Woods
Mobility: Whose Responsibility Is It?
by Gary Wunder
The Promotion Model
by Joseph Cutter
Structured Discovery in the Classroom
by Edward Bell, PhD
The Nature of Independence
by Kenneth Jernigan
JUST FOR FUN
Almost 101 Ways to Decorate Your Cane
by Cortney Osolinski
The Night Search
Review by Peggy Chong
CHALLENGE FOR THE FUTURE
Quiet Cars and Blind Pedestrians: Problems and Progress
by Barbara Pierce
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In the National Federation of the Blind (NFB), we have a saying: “We are changing what it means to be blind.” I think there is no more visible evidence of this truth than the pride and joy an unprecedented number of modern parents of blind children take in their children’s use of the long white cane. Because of the Federation’s work, the long white cane--once viewed as a symbol of the pitiful, helpless blind person--is increasingly viewed with admiration and respect as the tool which provides freedom, mobility, and independence for the blind.
But the NFB’s influence goes far beyond that of changing attitudes, incredible an accomplishment as that is. The NFB creates new cane designs, and it was the first organization to design and market kid size canes. For decades, the Federation has been stimulating and/or nourishing the development of new cane techniques and instructional approaches for adults and children. And the evidence is mounting--our canes, our approaches, and our techniques achieve superior results when implemented by instructors and parents who are grounded in the Federation philosophy of normalcy and high expectations.
The purpose of this special issue is to bring together, for the benefit of
parents and teachers, a sampling of Federation and Federation influenced approaches
to cane travel for children from birth through the teen years. The issue contains
practical information, descriptions of specific techniques, personal stories
from parents, and thoughtful philosophical discussions that probe the meaning
of true independence and responsibility. We answer specific questions: Who needs
a cane? What does a good cane travel or orientation and mobility program look
like? What does a good O&M assessment include? When should a child get a
cane? What kind of cane? What role do parents and others play in this process?
What about blindfold (sleepshade) training? These and many other practical questions
are addressed by material from well-known award-winning educators and authors:
Dr. Fred Schroeder, Joe Cutter, Doris Willoughby, Dr. Eddie Bell, Doug Boone,
Denise Mackenstadt and others. If there are inconsistencies, they are only indicators
of the dynamics of evolving knowledge and experience within the Federation.
What you will not find in this issue is a discussion about Global Positioning Systems (GPS) or echolocation training. As you can see, our special issue was quickly turning into a small book. We can’t even say that we have covered all of the basics thoroughly--that’s why we included the Resources section. We urge you to buy one or more of the recommended books, DVD’s, and/or do further reading from the recommended articles list.
The issue concludes with sections on Just for Fun and Challenge for the Future.
The challenge for the future--the impact of quiet cars on independent travel--is
one the NFB is taking aggressive steps to address, and we invite our readers
to get informed and get involved.
by Carrie Gilmer
Until Jordan was eight years old he walked bent over, not unlike my ninety-year-old grandmother whose spine was severely humped from osteoporosis. Jordan also walked with a slow, halting gait. All of his energy was focused on the ground in front of him. He was nervous and scared to cross the street by himself. He constantly reached for my hand when we were out in public. He was especially nervous in parking lots. I was becoming more and more concerned; this wasn’t what my other children did when they were nine.
At elementary school he could find the office, follow the line to the lunchroom and carry his own tray to the table, and he could follow the line to the bus. He could also follow the line to the playground, but once there he often stayed in one spot and played alone. Everyone at school thought he was doing really well. His orientation and mobility (O&M) instructor said he was doing great. What took us some time to realize was that they all thought he did really well--for a blind kid. Part of me wanted to rebel against these low expectations, but part of me wanted to be proud that he did so well--for a blind kid.
My husband and I didn't know any independent blind people. We had never seen anyone use a cane. No one had ever mentioned to us that Jordan should use one. I assumed that he wasn't given a cane because he wasn't blind enough. But here we were, faced with this fact: Jordan might be at the top of the heap of blind kids for independent mobility, but he was at the bottom of the heap of sighted kids. This meant that in his daily life he was always at the bottom because he was the only blind kid around.
In the spring of second grade, my concern about him being at the bottom of the heap day in and day out compelled me to go to the local NFB chapter. Judy Sanders, a totally blind woman from birth, volunteered to come to meet us and visit his school. I picked her up at the nearest bus station to Jordan's school. She traveled independently using a long white cane. She had never been to our neighborhood before, but it was no problem for her to find her way from the big city to the suburbs, from the bus to my car, and from my car through the parking lot into the school. I was very excited to see such normalcy in my first meeting with a real blind person. I thought she was definitely at the top of the blind heap, and I also thought she mixed in normally with the sighted heap; she traveled equally with me, anyway. I thought maybe she was allowed to have a cane because she was totally blind.
As we left the school, Judy told me about a national convention of blind people coming up that summer in Atlanta. She said there would be thousands of blind people there. She said it would take me years to learn what I could learn at this convention in one week. We decided to go, Jordan and I. When we got there, one of the things we found out was that not only could Jordan have a cane, he should have one. Joe Cutter (a nationally known expert in children's travel) told him that the cane is like a third eye on the ground. Jordan got his first cane and almost immediately his posture completely changed. He walked erect; chin up. He didn't grab for me on the stairs or at the curb as we walked around downtown Atlanta. I realized then that his spirit had been as bent over as his posture had been. I had a good cry.
After we got home from Atlanta I made him take the cane regularly whenever he went out. But I noticed that it was like he now had a big neon sign that said BLIND KID. He was a curiosity; he really stood out. I'm sure most of these people had never seen a blind kid with a cane before; I never had. I had the strange feeling of being glad for his blindness; glad that is, that he couldn't see all the people staring at him.
At first I wasn’t totally convinced that it was right to ask him to take the cane everywhere.
He almost never tripped or fell but, on the other hand, he always walked cautiously and never ran. I just couldn’t comprehend how his O&M instructor, the teacher of blind students, had never even mentioned the cane as a possibility for Jordan. I told the president of the NFB of Minnesota, herself a blind person who had grown up with partial sight, that every time I told Jordan to take his cane I had the weird feeling I was parking in a handicap zone without the tag.
But everything I had seen and heard and felt at convention told my gut that these blind people were totally right. They knew what they were talking about. They lived what they were talking about. I decided to trust them and do exactly what they said, and I mean exactly. Today I thank God over and over that I did.
At first, Jordan would forget the cane; he wasn’t used to thinking about it, but I would remind him. His posture continued to improve and he seemed less anxious overall about everything, not just travel. But he got very little instruction in how to use the cane from our school. The teachers let him carry the cane, but they still wanted him to use his vision primarily for travel. His technique seemed similar to what I saw other blind people do, so I just let him use the cane and explore with it. He soon discovered he could use it to tell the depth of snow and puddles and the height of ceilings among other things.
Before too long though it became clear that Jordan didn’t grasp the cane’s full potential; he needed some good training. Sometimes I caught him bending over, looking at the near ground while holding the cane up or out instead of on the ground. So, we sent him to the nearby Buddy Program; a camp for blind children run by BLIND, Inc., an NFB training center that was located not far from us in Minneapolis. There he learned how to travel with a cane under blindfolds, or sleepshades. He didn't completely comprehend what the cane could do for him or fully trust it until he experienced this sleepshade training. Once he understood what the cane could do and trusted it, he discovered that he could walk without fear and use his vision to look around at the buildings, trees, sky, or the person next to him. He learned how to rely on the cane for information about what was just in front of him, and to use his vision for gaining other information—usually just pleasurable—because now he could look up and out and around.
Since then, Jordan has gone all over town and all over the United States with cane in hand. He rarely walks beside me anymore, which is the norm for a teenager. He walks near me now only when it is normal to do so, like at the state fair, in a crowded museum, or at a holiday-packed mall. Usually, however, we have to yell at him to wait for the rest of us.
Through the years we have also become used to public reaction to the cane. We have learned through our NFB friends how to handle it. Here’s some of the worst examples: Once, a mother literally yanked her two young children out of Jordan's path and screamed at them to watch out, "That kid is blind!" (I was tempted to call child protection to report her treatment of her own children). In a mall parking lot a man went on and on and on about this amazing blind person he had met once on a Scout trip. A couple of times store clerks have accused Jordan of pretending to be blind. Some people are overly solicitous and try to help without being asked. Some people dramatically, but silently, move away. Some act panicked and over-apologetic if they should bump into, or be touched on the foot by, the cane. It’s common for little kids to ask what it is. A few young children wonder where they too can get one of these cool white sticks. Kids are usually delightful. These are not uncommon experiences for the independent cane traveler. Because we witnessed and experienced these with him, we were able to discuss what had happened and use it as a learning opportunity for him to develop self-advocacy skills.
At times it seemed that it might be easier to just let him leave the cane at home. Easier for us, his parents, that is. But this wasn't about us. It wasn’t Jordan who should be ashamed or embarrassed in these public encounters. The NFB helped us realize that it is respectable to be blind. It was ignorance that led to disrespect and fear on the part of the public. Instead of hiding the cane or leaving it at home, we taught Jordan and others that the cane is a respectable tool of independence. I was consistent and firm. It was like needing a coat when the weather was cold or rainy: his blindness called for a cane, and it was as simple as that. Leaving it at home would have denied him practice and self-discovery, including learning how to handle those incidents with the public.
Through constant use, Jordan has come to be a confident and proficient cane traveler. Using the cane is as natural and normal and routine to him as brushing his teeth or wearing shoes. It has become so natural to him now that the only way he can articulate how it works for him is in these words, “It is an extension of my body.” He can problem-solve in new environments. He can nonchalantly explain its use to the general public (all ages). He handles people's awkwardness with humor and quickly puts them at ease. He feels comfortable with it, uncomfortable without it. He is fully integrated into the heap. (I no longer think of it as the sighted kid or the blind kid heap; it’s all one, now).
This year when Jordan brought his class pictures home I noticed that he held his white cane proudly across his chest in the picture. He had never done this before. When we had started down this road the one thing we were determined about was that we never wanted Jordan to be embarrassed about who he is. We had succeeded. I cried again--this time they were tears of joy.
Carrie Gilmer is the secretary of the NOPBC and president of the POBC of
Minnesota. She and her family live in the Minneapolis metropolitan area.
by Barbara Mathews
My daughter, Kyra Sweeney, will start high school in a few months. It’s a huge school with three thousand students and multiple buildings spread out over a couple of acres. So mobility is on our minds.
We all like to tout the skills and accomplishments of our children (and, implicitly, I suppose, our own). Well, here’s an admission: mobility is not Kyra’s greatest skill. We have a couple of excuses. One is that she seems to have inherited my sense of direction, or lack thereof. Those “You are Here” signs just confuse me. And at our vacation home in the mountains, I swear the sun rises in the west. Another reason is even harder to admit. It’s that we’re busy. We’re often in a hurry. It’s usually quicker just to guide her.
But I’m not really concerned about how she’ll get around in high school. Why not? Because, with the help of the NFB, we have actually been preparing for a long time. Here are some steps along the way that I remember most vividly.
Wake-Up Call at Convention: When Kyra was four, we attended the NFB national convention in Dallas. It took place in a big hotel in the middle of the Dallas-Forth Worth airport. The hotel is no longer there, but some readers may remember the long, long hallway connecting the two towers. We were walking down that hallway. Kyra was holding my hand. Along came a blind mom and her blind daughter, who was probably under two years old. They were not holding hands. The daughter was walking independently using a cane. She seemed to be having fun walking by herself. They passed by us. I realized I was doing something wrong. Kyra was already behind where she should be. We bought an NFB cane and, since that day, Kyra has not left the house without her cane.
Big Step into Middle School: Three years ago, we were preparing for Kyra’s transition to middle school. It’s also a big, sprawling school with twelve hundred kids. She was coming from a small elementary school where she had more help than she needed, or we wanted her to have, from staff and friends. Three things made a difference in developing her independence. First, we developed an IEP goal that she would have mobility lessons on campus during the summer. She went every day during the week before school started to learn her way around. Second, we had it written into the IEP that she would get her class schedule before school started, so that her mobility lessons could include learning the routes to her classes. For reasons that escape me, getting the class schedule early is always harder than it should be. But we kept after the counselor, and got the schedule a bit early. Finally, and most importantly, Kyra was motivated to learn. She did NOT want an aide or a classmate guiding her from class to class.
I will never forget the first day I dropped her off and watched her walk by herself down a long, outdoor corridor. I wondered if she would remember where to make the left turn toward the classroom. She did. I was very proud.
Taking Ownership: Kyra recently returned from her eighth grade trip to Washington, D.C. When she, together with two good friends, boarded the plane to come home, the flight attendant tried to take her cane, saying “Your nice friends can help you.” They all laughed; Kyra said, “No, thank you,” and they proceeded down the aisle. When she told me about it, I said, “You should have said, ‘They won’t be able to help me if they’re dead.’” But we agreed that might have sounded a little harsh. I was really thinking, “All those times I embarrassed even myself by insisting that she keep the cane with her--it paid off; the lesson did sink in!” And beyond that, even her friends get it.
Finally, we have not depended entirely on school mobility lessons to teach travel skills. Summer is a great time to take advantage of other opportunities to learn. When Kyra was ten, she first went to Buddy Camp at BLIND, Inc. She went for two more summers. This summer she is planning to go to the middle school program at the Colorado Center for the Blind. It’s a great way to make friends, as well as to boost mobility skills. [Note: Both of these programs are owned and operated by the National Federation of the Blind.]
Here are some lessons learned:
Have your child start using the cane when she is very young. It will become a habit before she realizes it’s “different.”
Convey a positive attitude about the cane. Help the people around her understand that the cane is not only essential; it’s a symbol of independence and pride. When people call it her “stick,” I say, politely I hope, that it’s called a cane, then go on to respond to whatever point they’ve raised. It’s a matter of respect. It’s also a matter of remembering that part of “changing what it means to be blind” is teaching others. Our children are ambassadors from the blind community to the sighted world.
Take the time to let the child travel independently. There’s a story about an old man walking through the forest who sees a young man cutting down trees for firewood. He watches a while, then says, “Young man, if you’d sharpen that saw, you could get the job done faster and better.” The young man responds, “I don’t have time to sharpen the saw. I have to get this all done by sundown.” When we are impatient, and we don’t take the time to let the child learn and explore moving around independently, we’re not thinking logically about the future.
Be a pest about the mobility lessons and “cane rights.” It’s hard sometimes to keep after educators. It takes time to learn about the rights you have. But it’s worth it, and sets a good example of self-advocacy skills that your child will need when she leaves home. An aside on that: No school or mobility instructor has the right to tell your child what kind of cane to use or when she can use it. You should buy the cane (or canes--having a spare around comes in handy) yourself. Canes are not expensive. They are easy to order from the NFB Independence Market (<www.nfb.org>). If the mobility instructor insists on teaching with a different type of cane during lessons, you can decide whether to fight it or not. If they try to tell you what kind of cane your child should use otherwise, you can laugh and say, “No, thank you.”
By the way, and this is especially important in the teen years, Kyra’s friends have opinions on which canes are “cool.” Needless to say, the sleek long white NFB cane is cool; those short heavy canes are not.
Kyra’s IEP meeting is coming up soon. I have requested that an administrator from the high school be present so that we can include provisions for getting her class schedule early and mobility lessons on campus before school starts. I’m prepared to work through the summer to make sure the promises are carried out. And on September 2, I plan to drop her off at school at 7:00 a.m. and watch her head off to her first class--probably Marching Band--with her backpack, her lunch, her flute, and her cane.
Barbara Mathews is a member of the board of the National Organization of Parents of Blind Children and the president of the California Parents of Blind Children Chapter of the NFB of California. Her family lives in Santa Monica.
by Treva Olivero
Although my parents tried to shelter me when I was growing up, I inherited their self-determination, which in turn fueled my desire to be as independent as possible. My parents exhibited their self-reliance by rarely asking for assistance. They didn’t file for Supplemental Security Income (SSI) for me, even when they were eligible. In financially difficult times, instead of asking for assistance from extended family, the church, or the government, my Mom got a second job to help support the family. When my siblings were older, they were also expected to get jobs and be independent. But for me, the standard was different. Although I didn’t want to rely on the government, my parents urged me to apply for SSI when I turned eighteen. Even after I demonstrated my ability to listen for traffic and make good travel judgments, they wouldn’t allow me to travel independently on the rural road on which we lived. However, despite what they said, I chose to follow their determined example of self-sufficiency and refused to let my disabilities get in the way of my desire for independence.
I was born legally blind, and for me my blindness has always just been another part of my life. I haven’t always known how to deal with situations surrounding my blindness, but I do not dwell on what life would be like if I weren’t blind. However, I haven’t always been in a wheelchair. When I was five years old, I was diagnosed with a bone disease, but I could still walk until age eleven when my right leg was amputated above the knee. Although I went through physical therapy, I was never really able to walk normally, and I have used a wheelchair ever since. I didn’t want to let being in a wheelchair stop me, but I always wished for the ability to walk again.
Throughout high school and college, I “got by” mostly by using the little remaining vision I had. However, after toppling down several flights of steps and falling off of a curb into a busy street, I had to admit that my vision was getting worse, and that it was no longer reliable. For a while I dealt with this by limiting my activities and only going to familiar places. When I did travel to an unfamiliar place, I usually had a sighted person with me to push my chair, but this took away more independence. I continued to “get by” until I attended my first National Federation of the Blind convention in Louisville in 2002. There I met a blind man who successfully used a cane from his wheelchair to independently navigate the hotel. This surprised me; I had always thought that I couldn’t use a long white cane in a wheelchair. During high school, my orientation and mobility instructor told me that instead of using a cane I should put a tall pole with an orange flag on the back of my chair so that people in cars could watch out for me. I never did this, not only because the flag looked ridiculous and was extremely cumbersome when I traveled indoors, but this solution took responsibility for my safety out of my control. I was amazed at the idea that I could travel with a cane. I immediately bought an NFB cane and started using it while I was at the convention. I felt free to travel on my own. I didn’t have to wait for my co-workers or look down and strain to see the curb cuts; I was no longer limited in my travels. It took me a while to adjust to using a cane, but I persisted because my independence is valuable to me. Since I first started using a cane, I have learned some tips through trial and error that have helped me be successful in my travel, and I want to share these with you so that you can help your child:
1. Your child can use a manual chair and a cane. I prefer a manual chair because of the portability of it. Because I don’t have a car, I need a wheelchair that can just fold up and fit into almost any vehicle. The way I use my cane is by grasping the handrims of my wheelchair with each hand while at the same time grasping the cane in my right hand. This way I can still push both wheels while holding onto the cane and arcing it with my right hand.
2. Training in the techniques of nonvisual travel is essential. I have not had extensive training with sleepshades, but I have discovered that when I do activities nonvisually, I am more observant of my surroundings. I wish I had gotten training using sleepshades in high school or before I went to college because I know from my blind friends who did, that it would have significantly increased my confidence.
3. Find the cane that works. I currently use a sixty-one-inch fiberglass NFB straight cane. The length of the cane helps me to make a wider arc, and the narrow handle works best for me because I can grip it and the handrim on my wheelchair at the same time. I didn’t start out by using a straight cane because I thought it would be easier to store a telescoping cane, but I became frustrated with my cane randomly collapsing. Now, after using the straight cane for a while, I have discovered that it really works well and the inconveniences are minor.
4. Make your home wheelchair accessible. Your child needs to be able to get into and around the house independently just like any other child. For a while, my parents just carried me up the steps, but this limited my independence because I couldn’t go outside on my own. Eventually they made the necessary changes, and then I could come and go freely.
5. Sometimes it’s better to not use your cane inside. Just like many other blind people who are not in chairs, I have discovered that in familiar places, such as my home, I don’t use the cane. But I don’t always use it in unfamiliar places, either. For example, it’s easier to go through interior doors, which are usually not very wide, without the cane in use. I tuck my cane under my chin and grab onto the doorframe with my hands. I can feel where the door is, line myself up, and sometime just pull myself through the door.
6. It’s okay to travel slowly when necessary. For safety, I will slow down when I am on a downhill slope or when I come to an intersection and need to find a curb cut.
7. Educate others. People don’t understand how I travel independently, so I will talk to them about it and explain to them how my blindness and being in a wheelchair are not barriers for me. For example, recently I was out shopping with my husband when I encountered a man who was trying to give me directions to a ramp. He had seen me stop just before getting to a flight of stairs. He was extremely worried that I was going to fall down the stairs. I explained to him that I was using my cane. He was trying to tell me how to get to the ramp, but his directions were horrible. I explained to him that I would find the ramp by myself by using my cane. I told him that if I discover it myself, it will help me when finding the same ramp in the future. He left me alone, and I successfully found the ramp and was on my way.
8. Let your child be independent. Don’t push your child’s wheelchair just because you don’t think he or she can travel independently. Sometimes I let my husband Tony (he’s blind, too, but does not use a wheelchair) push me because it is the best way that we can walk together “arm in arm,” but I value my independence. For example, when you’re at the mall with your child, he or she will most likely want to be independent, so don’t take this away by pushing your child’s chair.
My final advice: Don’t limit your child just because of blindness and being in a wheelchair. It may be doubly tough to get stared at in public while your child learns how to wheel and cane at the same time, but just remind yourself that your child will someday thank you for believing in him or her. I’m independent and your child can be, too.
Treva Olivero is the coordinator of the Mentoring and Outreach project of the NFB Jernigan Institute. The job requires out-of-state travel about twice a month. She lives in Baltimore with her husband Tony.
by Stepanie Kieszak-Holloway
--From an entry in the journal I keep for my daughter, dated February 2, 2007:
Today Kendra and I read a book called The Little Sailor. It’s about a submarine and it has buttons to push for sound effects. One of the sounds is sonar. She and I started talking about how her cane is like sonar because it tells her what’s in front of her the same way the sonar tells the submarine captain. Then she started saying, “Tap, tap, tap, tap.” I asked her, “What’s that sound?” and she said, “It’s Kendra’s sonar.”
Before my daughter Kendra was born, I would never have described myself as being particularly assertive. However, having a blind child forced me to learn to speak up for the things I knew she needed and deserved. Sometimes that meant going against the status quo. Sometimes that meant I had a bunch of experts angry with me for challenging them. And sometimes that meant that I had to push forward on my own to obtain the things I knew Kendra needed. Thus began the history of our personal “cane wars.” I think my husband Richard and I both felt like we were, at times, fighting a losing battle. We knew we wanted Kendra to have a cane as soon as possible. Why was it so difficult to convince others that we were making the right decision? Perhaps our experiences will smooth the way for other parents.
Kendra started walking when she was fifteen months old. At the same time, my husband and I began talking about getting her a cane. We did not receive any support from the agency we were working with so I contacted the National Federation of the Blind’s (NFB) parents division, the National Organization of Parents of Blind Children (NOPBC), to ask for advice; and I was given Joe Cutter’s phone number. Joe is a nationally recognized specialist in pediatric orientation and mobility (O&M). Our first phone conversation lasted over two hours. It was such a relief to talk to him and to receive confirmation that we were not insane for wanting Kendra to have a cane at such a young age. It’s very easy to start to doubt yourself when all the “experts” are telling you that you’re wrong. Joe was the sounding board I needed. He also suggested several books and articles for me to read so I’d be better prepared to handle comments like, “Your daughter will learn bad habits with the cane if you give it to her so early,” or “Get her a pre-cane device if you think she needs to have something.” Joe made one particular observation that has stayed with me through the years. He talked about how the universe for a blind baby is limited to what is within arm’s reach. If you give that child a cane or even a long wooden spoon to reach out with, then suddenly that child’s universe has expanded. How could this possibly be considered a bad thing?
Over the years, we have met others through the NFB who have convinced us that we made the right decision. Richard and I met Fred Schroeder at an NFB of Georgia state convention one year and talked to him about cane use for young children. Fred is currently the first vice president of the NFB. I have read several pieces about and by Fred and was struck by his statement in a 1989 Future Reflections article about how keeping a cane away from a young blind child was like keeping crayons away from a young sighted child:
The traditional thinking in the field is that giving a cane to a very young child will result in the child’s developing bad habits which will need to be remediated later on. We have found this concern to be wholly vacuous and perplexing by its lack of understanding of child development. It would certainly be an exceptional two-year-old who would hold a crayon in the same manner as an adult holds a pencil. Nevertheless, it is recognized that a young child’s early scribbling is providing good practice in the development of the fine-motor skills which will eventually enable him or her to hold a pencil properly later on. To deny a child of early writing experiences so as to avoid the development of bad habits would be considered ludicrous and would be recognized as retarding the development of eye-hand coordination and other important skills. (Fredric Schroeder, “A Step Toward Equality: Cane Travel Training for the Young Blind Child,” Future Reflections Vol. 8, No. 1.)
Kendra is currently five years old. She is on her fifth long white cane. With the exception of one cane that needed to be replaced after someone stepped on it, each of her canes has been longer than the previous one. At eighteen months of age, Kendra received her very first cane through the NOPBC. It was twenty-four inches long. Of course she didn’t use it correctly at that age; we never had the expectation that she would. What we did expect of her was that she would understand it was hers and that it was to go with her whenever she went out. We also wanted her to understand that it would “tell” her things. To this day, if I see her ignoring cues from her cane and heading towards something that she could avoid, I’ll ask her to think about what her cane is telling her. We would never consider leaving the house without Kendra’s cane. It’s so much a part of our routine that I have caught myself thinking on more than one occasion that we need to bring R.J.’s cane with us when we go out as well. (R.J. is Kendra’s fully sighted two-year-old brother.)
At the age of two, Kendra attended school one day a week at The Center for the Visually Impaired (CVI) in Atlanta. We sent her to school with her cane although we knew that it was not part of their philosophy for children that young to have one. I recall the family counselor individually taking aside the other parents on the first day of class to tell them that Kendra’s use of the cane was the parents’ personal decision, and it was not on their recommendation. Three years later, I heard from a parent with a child in the CVI program that the current O&M instructor works with her three-year-old son with a cane, and that the overall atmosphere is one of greater tolerance.
When she was three, we enrolled Kendra in a Montessori school. She had O&M lessons twice a week for forty-five minutes each session. Kendra’s instructor, Libby Hall, was trained in the traditional O&M approach but she was open to reviewing some articles I gave her by Joe Cutter. Last summer, Libby attended her first NFB convention in Atlanta. I recall seeing Libby at the convention one day and she held out her arm to show me the goosebumps. She seemed energized by the O&M information presented at the convention. She left with every piece of NFB literature available, and with a new NFB-style long white cane. Libby recently told me that she could go on and on about her reactions to and feelings about the convention, and about how she has been stimulated and challenged by NFB ideas and techniques. Libby continues to be Kendra’s O&M instructor at her current public school and we have been very pleased to see some of the new approaches she has tried with Kendra this year.
In case you think that this early experience with a cane means that Kendra’s acceptance of it has been smooth and trouble-free, let me set the record straight. Kendra went through a period when she stubbornly refused to use her cane. I wrote to Joe Cutter for advice and racked my brain trying to figure out how to make the cane more acceptable to her. The event that turned things around was attending an NFB convention and hearing the tapping of canes all around her. No longer was she the only one with a cane! Even though Richard and I have teaching canes (adult-size canes that we use to model cane use for Kendra), it wasn’t the same as Kendra hearing other blind people using their canes all the time.
Reactions to Kendra’s cane by people outside our family have varied widely. On the one hand, Kendra has sighted friends who devise makeshift canes for their blind dolls. On the other hand are people who continue to call her cane a stick, even after being corrected. We’ve certainly had our share of stares and whispers. Sometimes I try to turn things around and consider the situation an opportunity to educate people. For example, if I hear another child whispering “Is she blind?” to a parent, I usually stop and tell the child that yes, Kendra is blind and she uses her cane to help her know what’s in front of her when she’s traveling. I need to remind myself that most people have never seen someone Kendra’s age using a cane. Last Halloween, Kendra wanted to dress up as a doctor so I bought her a set of scrubs. While we were trick-or-treating, an adult told us what a funny costume Kendra had; she thought Kendra was supposed to be a blind surgeon. I told her that Kendra is blind but that she was dressed up as a “regular” doctor, not a surgeon. It’s important to us that Kendra doesn’t become ashamed to use her cane, and hearing us address public comments about blindness and the cane in a positive manner is one way to make sure that doesn’t happen.
In 2007, the Georgia Organization of Parents of Blind Children started a cane bank in memory of Jared Cochran, a little boy who died unexpectedly at age three. We provide a child’s first cane for free to any parent in Georgia who requests one.
Tap, tap, tap, tap, tap……..
Stephanie Kieszak-Holloway is president of the POBC of Georgia and a member of the board of the NOPBC. She and her family live near Atlanta.
by Carrie Gilmer
When my daughter Maya was three years old she wanted one thing more than anything else--a white cane of her own. There was only one problem: she wasn’t blind. But her older brother Jordan was, and she wanted to be just like him.
My husband and I noticed that there was something wrong with Jordan’s vision when he was four and at age five he was diagnosed with cone-rod dystrophy. Then they told us that he was legally blind. But we didn’t find out how normal a blind kid could be until Jordan was eight and we discovered the National Federation of the Blind (NFB). Jordan’s older siblings, Joe and Kate were on the same learning curve of shock, grief, and acceptance that Phillip, my husband, and I experienced. Maya, however, was just one month shy of being two years old when Jordan and I attended our first NFB convention. At that convention our attitudes changed from mere acceptance to really going forward; full dreams ahead.
During Maya’s second year we had regular contact with many blind adults at local NFB meetings, and she celebrated her third birthday with all the buddies (blind kids) at the Buddy Camp Jordan was attending for the first time. In her early years, when she was forming her understanding of the world, there were blind people and sighted people, and to her there wasn’t an overall discernable difference between them. Mainly the difference was that blind people got to have white canes and read Braille, and blind kids got to go to a fun-filled camp. She wanted those things, too.
When she was three she began to pick up sticks in the yard and use them like a cane. Then she began to ask for a cane of her own. I didn’t think that as a sighted child she should have one. I also didn’t want her to think of Jordan’s cane as a toy, so I told her only blind kids got real canes. Of course, this only made her want one even more. She began to insist on taking her stick with her whenever we went out. But often the stick was too short or had little branches sticking out of it and we were in a rush to get out the door so mostly we told her, “No, you can’t take your stick.” But if Maya is anything, she is persistent, and she wanted a cane.
For nearly two years we went through lots of sticks. But they were brown, not
white, often crooked, and even though many made it to the grocery store and
back, they broke easily. Then, during the summer she turned five, a sort of
miracle happened. We had gone to the Mississippi river (it is much cleaner up
in Minnesota by the source) to spend the day with my father on his boat. As
usual we had day-camped on a sandy shore. Suddenly I heard Maya yelling, “Mom!
I found my cane! I found my cane!” Sure enough, Maya had found a perfectly straight
stick; it was cane width and strength, of correct length, bleached white, and
smoothed by the river. I could never again bring myself to tell her “No.”
Maya was growing up with a blind older brother who was just like any other older brother. He read her stories; he met her at the bus stop when I couldn’t; he made her snacks; he took her to the park, played with her, and made sure she was safe; he had cool stuff that she liked to borrow (or get into); he could reach things she could not; he got to do things she wasn’t old enough to do; and he was there to practice debating skills with her. She tried to discover what the blindness part meant by wearing sleepshades or closing her eyes and exploring with her own senses the alternative techniques Jordan used daily. To this day Maya’s attitude about blindness is matter-of-fact in a much deeper way than that of his older siblings.
Last year the Minnesota Parents of Blind Children partnered with Qwest Corporation volunteers to sponsor a beeper Easter Egg Hunt. Siblings were welcomed and had a chance to wear a colorful bandana over their eyes and use a white cane. A ten-year-old boy, Austyn, came with his sighted three-year-old sister Bayleigh. I had a cane just the right size for Bayleigh, and she was not afraid to put on the bandana. As I watched her I thought of Maya and the difference it made to let her grow up learning about her brother and blindness at least in part through imitation.
Austyn had a folding cane that he had obviously outgrown. I asked him if he would like to try a longer NFB straight cane with a cool metal tip. He whooped and hollered and took off down the sidewalk. He acted as though he had traded an old jalopy for a sleek new Corvette. And in my opinion he had. His excitement was cemented when I told him he could keep the cane when the hunt was over. I also asked Bayleigh if she would like to keep her cane. She said yes. Her mother and grandmother were a little hesitant--perhaps concerned that a blind child needed that particular cane--and questioned (like I had done with Maya) whether a sighted child should have a cane. But I told them it could be a good way for Bayleigh to discover what it means for her brother to use a cane, and explained how Maya had learned about her older brother this way.
Brenda Johnson, Bayleigh and Austyn’s mother, recently told me how it is going for Bayleigh and Austyn and their canes. Here’s what she said:
“Bayleigh has not separated from it since she got it. She has learned how to make rainbows (making a proper arc), and often reminds Austyn how to use his cane appropriately. One day in April, Bayleigh went to the grocery store with her Nana. Of course she needed to take her cane. As she walked through the store, she got a lot of looks from other shoppers and comments about how well she got along. When it was time to check out, the clerk commented about how well she got along, especially when she ran to the Hannah Montana poster display. Of course, grandma needed to explain that she really wasn't blind but was imitating her older brother. Bayleigh now has taken to wearing her Hannah Montana sleepshades when she goes out with her cane.”
Maybe Maya (or Bayleigh) will decide to become a cane travel instructor when she grows up. Wouldn’t that be awesome? As parents of blind children we cannot choose “if” our child will be blind, but we can definitely choose to model for them “how” to live with it through our actions and attitudes. We can also teach those in our families and who are in the lives of our child what blindness means, and what it doesn’t, through that choice of “how.”
Carrie Gilmer is president of the Minnesota Parents of Blind Children and
secretary of the National Organization of Parents of Blind Children. She and
her family live in Minneapolis, Minnesota.
by Patricia Renfranz
My daughter Caroline, who is now twelve, is congenitally blind. She has been enrolled in a mainstream elementary school program since second grade. We spent many joyful and many frustrating hours encouraging her to explore her world as a toddler and preschooler. One day she’d be up to her armpits in a pumpkin--gleefully enjoying the gunk--and the next day she’d be crying at the top of a slide--afraid to come down but determined to do it nonetheless. A few times I crammed myself into the McDonald’s Playland tunnels to orient her or encourage her to keep moving. The worst times were those when we felt the glare of other parents as we “tortured” that poor crying blind toddler who couldn’t make up her mind to go up or down on the playground slide. We had to remember that we knew our daughter best. We knew she wanted to slide down; we just had to hang in with her until she had the courage to do it. Fortunately, my family’s resilience in these matters has paid off. Perhaps this is why I was asked by the Future Reflections editor to write about cane travel and training during the elementary school years. So, here goes.
Caroline received her first cane in preschool at the Utah Schools for the Deaf and the Blind. This cane, in fact, was a little tiny NFB cane, the significance of which I did not appreciate at the time. I don’t think Caroline saw this cane as a great emancipator, but she did receive encouragement and training. As she moved into elementary school, her various orientation and mobility instructors (OMIs) provided her with a number of different cane types (usually the red and white aluminum cane) and cane tips. She used her cane at school--in the halls, in the lunchroom, and on the playground--fairly responsibly. On the other hand, she was always encouraged to leave it at the doorway of her classroom, even though a classroom is the least predictable space in the whole school. Caroline mixed her techniques and grips to use the cane as she saw fit, while receiving instruction on its proper usage.
I do not think it is heretical or dangerous for her to have mixed and matched techniques; she was just being a kid. However, technique was a focus of her IEP goals. Technique is intimidating, and while an OMI (or a parent) may know a lot about techniques, they do not necessarily know how to translate techniques devised for blind adults into a program appropriate for children. It makes me wonder if OMI training programs have any sort of pediatric specialty. Are any of those folks who are just terrific working with children--we know who they are, even if we can't describe the type--ever recruited into OMI training programs? What about teachers with an elementary education background? Are OMIs working in the school system able to receive training in child development or child psychology? Are OMIs eligible for special endorsements for working with children? Our family certainly could have benefited from such cross-disciplinary expertise. We’ve just discovered the Modular Instruction book by Willoughby and Monthei and I was delighted to learn that Willoughby was a former elementary school teacher. I wish we had discovered the book years ago.
In any case, at home and in the community, Caroline’s use of the cane was a different story than at school. Picture us in a busy parking lot, Caroline standing outside the car door sans cane, insisting quite stridently that she will neither use her cane nor walk with an adult. In retrospect, I can see this as a young child’s yearning for independence--yearning desperately in fact--without the maturity to understand that independence requires skills and responsibility. Her desire to be independent (not to be quashed!) blossomed without the cognitive skills to understand that safe, responsible travel by a child in a very large parking lot requires either the use of the cane with supervision, or guidance from an adult. Her spirit wanted to be free (not holding hands with mom or dad) but her mind could not accept the limited choices--use your cane with someone nearby or hold our hands--that we (her parents) decided to give her in that circumstance.
This brings me to one side note, which is this question: Does every trip to the grocery store have to be a lesson in cane travel, orientation, or mobility? I feel guilty if I don’t give Caroline the opportunity to practice every chance we get, but sometimes I have to do what is best for me or for my family as a whole, not just what is best for my blind daughter. So, sometimes I leave her in the produce section to explore to her heart’s content while I go round up something for dinner. I do what I can to keep her safe, and I am guiltily relieved to not be there to see the looks of other customers or clerks as she handles all the unusual (or not so unusual) items. It is a decision that gives us both, parent and child, a little independence. She needs to know I trust her. Of course, sometimes she just stays in the car while I run in to get milk. I know, I know--Bad Mom.
Caroline and I went shoe shopping a few weeks ago. Like all the other times, I insisted she walk around the shoe department to try the shoes out. A few years ago, she was quite reluctant to do this. I could see the wheels turning in her mind: "Use a cane--stand out. Not use a cane--bump into shin-height display tables. Other kids around? I can’t see them, but I know they are staring at me." Even a little task like trying on shoes became fraught with significance. I would ask myself questions, too. Do I mention the cane? Do I just let her decide? If she doesn’t use it, do I let her bruise her shins or trip on open boxes, and learn her lesson the hard way? Why am I giving so much significance to every little thing in her life? I need therapy before we’ve even picked out what shoes to try on!
Our last shoe expedition, though, worked. We had to go to the grown-up shoe department because she’s growing so fast. There were fewer kids but more people and more obstacles, and it was in a busier part of the store. So, we get there and soon off she goes, trying her new shoes. Cane in hand, she avoids the pillars and the shin-killing shelves; she doesn’t quite avoid all the people, but that’s okay. We still get the looks--“Oh, that child is brave; oh, that parent is brave; oh, poor thing--look at her maneuvering around all the stuff on the floor.” They don’t realize it’s not about bravery. It does not take bravery to wander around a shoe department. This time, however, it did take a remarkable confluence of physical, social, and cognitive skills that we have journeyed long to find.
This year, Caroline has taken ownership of her cane, and we are so proud of her. Unfortunately, it resulted in a brouhaha with her OMI over what type of cane Caroline should use. Caroline decided she preferred the NFB-style cane, which is lighter, made of fiberglass, has a narrow round grip, and a metal tip. Her OMI insisted it was not safe. She wanted Caroline to use one of the other types of canes: the heavier aluminum cane, a folding cane, a cane with a golf grip, a cane with a plastic tip, a cane with a marshmallow tip—any cane but the NFB cane. Meetings had to be held and tempers flared. As parents, we were ecstatic that Caroline had decided to use any type of cane at all. As I told our friends, she could have chosen a telephone pole and I would have been happy. Our years of struggle, both public and private, to get her to take a cane and use it, had finally paid off! Instead of celebrating, her OMI refused to instruct her, indicating to us a lack of appreciation for what a blind child must go through to accept a cane in her life (I guess her OMI had never seen us in certain parking lots). With strong support from us, Caroline now has another OMI, one who has an open mind and who respects a blind kid’s feelings about using a cane. Things are working very well now.
I learned many things from reading Kenneth Jernigan’s article, “The Nature of Independence.” [That article is also reprinted in this issue.] One is that independence comes from knowledge and training, and from those come the power of choice. I think that OMIs, whether from within or outside the NFB, should respect the fact that there is no fixed prescription for independent mobility for any blind child. One child may need more or less time than mine to acquire the cognitive skills to understand what the cane is and how it can help him or her move independently. One child may be more or less sensitive than mine about balancing how the cane makes one different versus how it non-intuitively makes that child fit in. One family may be better able or less able than mine to find a good balancing point between the disciplined attitude that “every action has import--use the cane every day or you’ll never be independent” and a laissez-faire attitude of “hand the cane to the child and let her or him decide when to use it.”
Next year, Caroline will be going to junior high. She’ll have a big, complicated school to navigate. Thanks to a wonderful OMI, she is already learning the layout, not just routes but how to figure out for herself where she is. I am confident that she is discovering her own path to being an independent blind student who carries a cane.
Pat Renfranz is a new member on the board of the NOPBC and a leader in the Parents of Blind Children of Utah. She and her family live in Salt Lake City, Utah.
Editor’s Note: Pat raised an important question about the
university training of O&M instructors. At least one program addresses the
need of future instructors to have some knowledge about how children develop.
The Louisiana Tech orientation and mobility degree program requires that students
take a three-hour course in developmental aspects of blindness with a focus
on child development. Students are taught the milestones for typically developing
children, and how to use and adapt them as standards for O&M assessments
and instruction. Contact information about this program is in the Resources
section at the end of this issue.
by Fredric Schroeder, PhD
Reprinted from the Volume 8, Number 1, issue of Future Reflections.
Editor's Note: Dr. Fredric Schroeder is the first vice president of the NFB and a professor specializing in leadership and public policy at San Diego State University. However, he began his career in work with the blind as a cane travel (orientation and mobility) instructor for the blind at the rehab agency for the blind in Nebraska. He moved on from that to become the Coordinator of Low Incidence Programs for the Albuquerque Public Schools from August of 1981 to June 1986. In 1986 he accepted a position as Director of the New Mexico Commission for the Blind, and in 1994 he was appointed commissioner of the Rehabilitation Services Administration (RSA) by President Clinton, a post he held until 2001. Schroeder was a pioneer in advocating canes for blind kids. He established the first school-district-wide O&M program to routinely provide canes and O&M instruction to all blind and visually impaired students as soon as they entered school as kindergarteners. The principles, protocols, and techniques he developed in that program continue to be the standard and the model today. Here is his description of that program as reprinted from an earlier issue of Future Reflections:
Beginning in 1981, the Albuquerque Public Schools implemented a unique program of providing cane travel instruction to blind children as they begin kindergarten. This program is viewed as radical by some since it operates from the philosophy that all blind children should begin cane travel instruction at a very early age. One of the most fundamental parts of a blind child's training is the development of independent travel skills. Without these skills, the blind child is placed in a position of being dependent on others for inclusion in daily activities. As a result, we find a direct correlation between the acquisition of independent travel skills and the development of self-confidence. As self-confidence increases, we find a marked increase in the degree to which blind children are accepted by their peers.
There presently exists a controversy in the orientation and mobility field concerning the age at which cane travel instruction should begin. The traditional practice is to introduce cane travel instruction in high school or mid-school and in rare cases in the upper elementary grades. It is felt that young children are not able to use the cane responsibly before this time. Further, it is felt that young blind children are not developmentally ready to begin cane travel instruction due to the coordination required for handling the cane and the spatial concepts needed for orientation. The controversy hinges upon the meaning ascribed to the concept of “readiness” for using the cane. Those of us who believe that very young blind children should receive cane travel instruction pose the counterargument that the traditional method of orientation and mobility training is designed for adults and, therefore, it is the method of instruction which is deficient for encouraging early use of the cane rather than the child's maturational inability to use a cane effectively.
Certainly, very young children will not handle a cane in precisely the same manner as adults; however, this is not to say that the very young child uses the cane incorrectly or inappropriately.
The way in which cane travel instruction is taught to very young children differs in a number of ways from conventional travel training. The first modification concerns the type of cane to be used. For very young children it is necessary to have a cane which is lightweight, flexible and durable. We do not use metal canes of any type since they are heavy and become bent with significant use. The best cane we have found is manufactured and distributed by the National Federation of the Blind (1800 Johnson St., Baltimore, MD 21230, 410-659-9314). This cane is of the hollow fiberglass type and uses a metal glide tip. The hollow fiberglass makes for a lightweight, flexible cane, and the metal tip reduces the likelihood of catching the cane in tall grass or shrubbery. We believe that a child's cane should be longer than normally recommended. We measure a child's cane so that it comes up to his or her nose or higher. In this way, the child is provided a two- to three-step warning of upcoming objects, thereby allowing the child to move quickly and confidently.
Next, we modify the way in which cane travel instruction is introduced. The two-point touch technique in a formal sense is not practical for five-year-olds. However, the two-point touch technique remains the goal, and therefore early instruction must be structured with this goal in mind. For example, the two-point touch technique requires that the individual use a particular grip with the index finger extended along the shaft of the cane. The hand must be centered with the body, and the cane is to be moved from side to side in an arcing motion. The arc of the cane should ideally reach a height of one and a half inches at its highest point. The width of the arc should be two inches to either side of the body. Finally, the cane tip should touch in opposition to the leading foot. That is, as the cane touches to the left, the right foot should be forward. Without a doubt, a five-year-old would be hard pressed to master all of these skills and coordinate them while walking. Nevertheless, it is well within the ability of a five-year-old or even three-year-old to master the fundamental concepts of cane travel and implement them to a developmentally appropriate level.
The initial objective is an awareness that the cane can detect objects in the environment. Since the cane is a natural extension of the arm and hand, few children have difficulty in understanding the usefulness of the cane as an exploration device. Next, the instructor will encourage the student to move the cane from side to side for the purpose of establishing a clear path. A centered hand position can be introduced at the same time. At this point, the instructor should not be concerned with the student's keeping in step. Similarly, it is not necessary for the student to have the index finger extended while gripping the cane. These refinements will come later. At this stage, the primary objective is to encourage the student to move independently, using the cane to find a clear path. In this way, children develop an awareness that the cane will allow them to move easily and without fear. Unlike conventional orientation and mobility training, from the time cane travel is introduced our students are required to use their canes at all times.
Our students are required to use their canes at all times. This includes using the cane in familiar environments such as within the school building, in the cafeteria, and on the playground. Using the cane in familiar environments helps the child learn to interpret information received from the cane. If stairs or a familiar object can be anticipated, then the child will learn to use the cane to find these familiar landmarks. At this stage, attention to the width and height of the arc should be of the most general type. The teacher should resist focusing on technique in lieu of encouraging independent travel and exploration.
It is very important for children not to become dependent on using memorized routes of travel. During orientation and mobility lessons children should be encouraged to make use of landmarks for orientation which are naturally encountered by the child. Students should not be allowed to trail walls with their hands, count steps or slide their feet to find stairs. Furthermore, children should not be allowed to use protective arm techniques (particularly the upper hand and forearm technique), since it interferes with the child's ability to make use of auditory clues. In addition, children should not be allowed to square off with walls as a means of making ninety degree turns. Instead, children should be encouraged to use the cane to find landmarks which would naturally be encountered in the environment.
It is critical that children be encouraged as soon as possible to travel independently through wide open spaces. This will enhance development of the child's ability to orient him or herself by means of broad environmental clues. Our students use the cane on the playground and are able to find their way to the swings, slide, and other playground equipment. When necessary, students will ask directions of other children.
Similarly, all of our students are expected to function independently in the cafeteria. They are responsible for going through the line with the other children, using the cane, gently, to determine when the student ahead has moved forward. Our students carry their own trays, using the cane in either a diagonal technique or, for more experienced travelers, using the pencil grip. The pencil grip is a technique for holding the cane at a nearly vertical angle. As the name implies, the cane is held like a pencil using the thumb, index and middle fingers to move the cane from side to side. This technique leaves free the ring finger and little finger which can be used to hold one end of a tray with the free hand holding the other end. Our students find their own seats and are expected to bus their own trays after lunch. In short, we believe that children who are provided cane travel at an early age are able truly to mainstream themselves in all aspects of school life.
As time goes on, the orientation and mobility specialist begins to help the student refine his or her cane technique until it takes the form of the conventional two-point touch method. We have not encountered any of the difficulties which are generally presumed to occur with the introduction of cane travel at a very early age. The traditional thinking in the field is that giving a cane to a very young child will result in the child's developing bad habits which will need to be remediated later on. We have found this concern to be wholly vacuous and perplexing by its lack of understanding of child development. It would certainly be an exceptional two-year-old who would hold a crayon in the same manner as an adult holds a pencil. Nevertheless, it is recognized that a young child's early scribbling is providing good practice in the development of the fine-motor skills which will eventually enable him or her to hold a pencil properly later on. To deny a child of early writing experiences so as to avoid the development of bad habits would be considered ludicrous and would be recognized as retarding the development of eye-hand coordination and other important skills. As previously stated, we do not expect young children to use the cane in the same manner as adults. We have found that as children grow, they become developmentally ready to master new aspects of efficient cane technique. In addition, there are many residual benefits to early introduction of the cane.
We find that children, if provided canes at an early age, develop the ability to orient themselves easily in complex environments, which frees them from the limitations of route travel. It appears that early exploration is the key to enabling young children to develop spatial concepts. Furthermore, we find that use of the cane greatly improves posture by eliminating the need for the student to shuffle his or her feet or walk with his or her hands extended. Finally, we find that use of the cane improves children's feelings of self confidence and self-worth as they are able to participate independently in the school community.
Let me now address the issue of “pre-cane” techniques. The orientation and mobility profession has identified a number of pre-cane skills, including protective arm techniques, trailing walls, and use of sighted guides. We believe that these skills are rendered useless once cane travel has been introduced.
[Pre-cane techniques] are a separate and less efficient travel system which is unrelated to eventual cane travel. Furthermore, they are a separate and less efficient travel system which is unrelated to eventual cane travel. Therefore, we do not consider them “pre-cane” skills since they do not provide developmental readiness for eventual cane use. For this reason, we are philosophically opposed to conventional pre-cane techniques since they promote unnatural and inefficient mobility.
In particular, we discourage the use of sighted guide procedures. It is our experience that the use of sighted guides places the blind student in a subordinate status which is damaging to the child's development of independence. When being led by a sighted guide, it is difficult to remain well-oriented since natural landmarks are not encountered. More importantly, there is a tendency for the blind child to relinquish responsibility for his or her own orientation. In some instances, such as traveling through a crowded shopping center or sports stadium, the use of the sighted guide technique may be helpful in keeping track of a companion; however, at no time do we refer to the technique as “sighted guide,” nor do we allow the child to give up responsibility for his or her own orientation.
To accomplish this end, we introduce crossing of major intersections, bus travel, and travel through large shopping centers in elementary school. We often have the children go in pairs with the more experienced traveler serving as a role model for children less experienced. In this way, the children learn how to rely on their own abilities to reason their way through new situations without significant intervention by the orientation and mobility specialist.
Let me hasten to add that the process I have been describing is not limited to a select group of students with extraordinary ability. Our students include blind children with other conditions. For example, two of our students have been identified as having communication disorders. This would normally be assumed to cause great difficulty in understanding and following directions as well as conceptually understanding large open spaces. We also have a student with a hydrocephalic condition and a hearing loss in one ear, which makes localization of sound more difficult. Let me also add that the success of our students is not based on the degree of residual vision. Students with any vision (including light perception) wear ocular occluders (sleep shades) during all orientation and mobility lessons. In this way, the children genuinely develop the ability to rely on the cane as well as landmarks and auditory clues. Properly developed, these skills will enable the child with residual vision to function easily and confidently in situations where glare or other physical conditions make his or her vision unusable.
The benefits we have observed from the early introduction of cane travel have been greatly encouraging. Children benefit individually through increased confidence and self-esteem, as well as benefiting socially by being able to participate on an equal footing with their peers. For these reasons, we remain firmly committed to early cane travel instruction from both a philosophical and practical standpoint. As educators, there is no greater gift we can give a child than the skills to take charge of his or her own life and take a step toward equality.
by Douglas C. Boone
Editor’s Note: What should a good O&M assessment look like? According to long-time cane travel instructor and consultant, Doug Boone, one of the crucial elements of a good assessment is the evaluator’s expectations and attitudes. The following piece by Doug Boone is adapted from an article entitled “Linda Gets a Cane: Parents Prevail in Due Process Hearing” in the Volume 13, Number 2, issue of Future Reflections. It is included in this special issue because it provides an excellent example of all the elements that make up a thorough O&M assessment--including that elusive element: positive expectations. Here is Doug Boone:
In the middle of April 1993, I received a phone call from Karen Mayry, President
of the National Federation of the Blind of South Dakota. She informed me that
a seven-year-old blind person, Linda Perez, was not receiving instruction in
the use of her long white cane. Furthermore, she was not being encouraged or
allowed to use her cane in the school. The wishes of Linda and her parents,
as presented to the Douglas School District (which is near Rapid City) during
IEP meetings were being discounted in favor of the recommendation by the regional
orientation and mobility (O&M) consultant who had prescribed a precane device
As a private consultant in the field of blindness/visually impaired issues, it has become my policy not to rely on others’ perceptions of a situation. Instead, I like to evaluate each situation or human need personally and then pursue a course of action which is based upon fact. I also proceed on the assumption that it is best to err on the side of positive expectation--I always first assume that a given task or challenge can be accomplished by the person with whom I am working.
The foundation of experience and philosophy I bring to this process consists partly of my experience in the employ of three state blind rehabilitation agencies. While an employee of the state rehabilitation agencies I was often called upon to consult with educational facilities regarding the needs of blind and visually impaired adults and children in issues related to cane travel and industrial technology classes. Also vital to my foundation of knowledge is the extensive sleepshade training I received when I first entered the field, and my continued philosophical growth by way of my association with the literature and members of the National Federation of the Blind. With this background, I set about designing an appropriate evaluation of Linda Perez’s ability to function with the long white cane. Here is the text of that evaluation:
Proposal For O&M Assessment
The following is a proposal for contract services to assess the feasibility of the introduction and subsequent instruction in the use of the long white cane, as an aid to mobility, for Linda Perez, beginning on Sunday, May 9, 1993, and concluding on Monday, May 10, 1993.
The assessment will be conducted in a two-phase process: at the student’s residence on the first day and at the student’s school on the second day. The assessment schedule will help to minimize the Hawthorn effect by allowing for the development of rapport with the consultant in the secure environment of the home on the first day. This arrangement will also allow for parent observation of the process. The second day of the assessment will provide for an expansion of the assessment in a more structured environment with observation by interested instructional staff. The second day will seek to provide a review of those areas (listed below) which were assessed on the first day. The provision of two days of assessment will seek to minimize the chance that the student might have an off day and thus skew the results of the assessment. Both days of the student’s assessment will cover, to the extent possible, the following:
1. Establish rapport between the evaluator and parents and student.
2. Begin evaluation of student’s: a. expressive and receptive language skills, b. level of community/environmental awareness, c. level of social awareness.
3. Evaluation of student’s ability to collect, correctly assess, and/or use auditory, tactile, and other available environmental information.
4. Provide for the evaluation of the student’s balance under a variety of situations and conditions.
5. Evaluation of the student’s ability to grip the cane and begin manipulation of same.
6. Instruction in, and evaluation of, the ability of the student to slide or tap cane in such a manner as to provide for a clear path of movement.
7. Confirm the ability of the student to maintain, at a level consistent with that of beginning students, incorporation of the following elements in the use of the cane: a. grip, b. slide or tap, and c. acceptable width of arc.
8. A basic assessment of the student’s psychomotor skills in general.
9. An assessment of student’s maturity level and ability to maintain concentration necessary for beginning use of the cane.
10. Evaluation of the student’s ability regarding stowing the cane in an appropriate location and retrieval of the stored cane.
All of the above will serve to determine the readiness of the student to begin a course of instruction in the use of the long white cane. Of necessity the assessment will be conducted at a pace commensurate with the student’s attention and tolerance levels. To provide for these considerations, the assessment will be interspersed throughout both days of evaluation.
A written report will be sent by FAX to the school no later than the morning of May 14, 1993, and a FAX sent to the parents to a location of their choosing. This will be done in order to acquaint all interested parties with the findings of the assessment.
The summarized results of the evaluation are provided below:
O&M Evaluation Report
Locations For The Assessment: Student’s residence, Rapid City Mall, and the Douglas School Badger Clark building, Carousel building, and surrounding school environment as it relates to Linda’s instructional needs.
The evaluation began on the morning of May 9, 1993, at the residence of Linda Perez. My first efforts were directed toward establishing rapport with Linda and her parents. I asked Linda to get her cane. Linda independently found the cane, with only a verbal prompt from her parents to tell her that the cane was on the porch. Linda was receptive to becoming acquainted, and I soon asked her to show me her favorite toy. She took her cane, without prompting, and returned with a busy box. Approximately fifteen minutes later I asked Linda to put her toy back, which she did without any difficulty. I then asked her to get another toy. This time she chose a puzzle. She came back to the table and began working on the puzzle. After a short time, she asked about the location of her cane. It was at this point that I demonstrated to Linda how she could store the cane under her chair. Linda exhibited a good attention span while working on her puzzle.
Mr. and Mrs. Delker next provided me with information regarding various self-help skills which Linda is able to accomplish. While this is not directly related to the assessment of Linda’s ability to use a cane, a cursory review of her level of functioning is desirable in order to understand her behavior when using the cane. The discussion revealed an overall development in the range of a three- to four-year-old. Her parents stated that Linda has specific tasks to do in the home. A recommendation was made to encourage Linda to become involved in the selection of her own clothing since activities of this nature contribute to independent thinking and concept development. It should be noted that this portion of the assessment was for the benefit of the consultant, and was/is not intended as an official finding regarding age-appropriate development.
Evaluation Of Outside Use Of The Cane: As we prepared to leave the house for the outside evaluation, Linda prompted her parents by asking for her cane. I believe this was a significant act, demonstrating an awareness of the cane as a tool for independent mobility.
As we came down the ramp from the house, Linda found a section of plywood with the cane, then stomped on it to confirm the feedback she had received from the cane--an act not inconsistent with beginning users of the cane of any age. This demonstration of an awareness of the auditory feedback available from the cane is significant in view of the limited experience Linda has had with the cane.
Once in the yard, Linda followed her father’s voice toward the place where the bus stops. Linda continued to use her cane in a somewhat sporadic arc, mostly keeping it near to the ground but occasionally raising it. Linda displayed an ease with using the cane in either the right or left hand. This ambidextrous approach to the cane is a skill well worth fostering, as it provides for independent mobility when carrying heavier objects which can be shifted between hands to minimize fatigue. While I generally introduce this skill later in a student’s instruction, I do not view the early alternating of hands to use the cane in a negative light.
From the bus stop we proceeded to the lamb pen. Again, Linda followed her father’s voice. She used the cane surprisingly well over uneven surfaces, including tire ruts, unmown grass, mud, and loose gravel. When she arrived at the lamb pen, she was not facing the pen, but was parallel to it. Her father made note of this fact and prompted her to put the cane in front of her. She extended the cane and swung it to her left, found the fence with the cane, then turned and appropriately faced the lambs. This action represents an understanding of the value of the cane as a tool to collect information from the environment.
Next, I asked her to find the chicken house. (I had heard a chicken as Mrs. Delker was gathering the eggs.) Linda needed one additional auditory cue, then proceeded in the direction of the building. After locating the chicken house she turned and approached the feed shed which Mr. Delker had entered. After arriving at the feed shed, I showed Linda how to determine the height of a step by using her cane. The step was inordinately high, approximately fourteen inches off the ground. After several exploratory tries, Linda crawled into the shed. At all times she maintained contact with the cane or remembered where she had placed it. This behavior demonstrated Linda’s awareness of the value of the cane in enabling her to move effectively in her environment. As we returned to the house Linda continued to use her cane while following sound cue information from her parents’ voices.
Evaluation At The Mall: At my request, Mrs. Delker drove Linda and me to the mall for an evaluation of cane usage in an unfamiliar location. Upon arrival at the mall, Linda unbuckled her seat belt. This was the first time she had self-initiated and independently accomplished this task.
As we entered the mall Linda immediately noticed the sound feedback available from the cane, and swung her cane with additional vigor. Initially, Linda seemed a little intimidated at the prospect of walking about using only her cane and not hanging on to her mother’s hand. This behavior was not surprising given her limited instruction in the use of the cane to date. Most people tend to experience some degree of fear and apprehension when encountering new environments.
As we walked in the mall, Mrs. Delker asked Linda to find a bench. Linda, without further information, reached out and found the bench using her cane. During this portion of the evaluation I observed multiple incidents of Linda’s swinging the cane vertically and horizontally at waist height or above. After a number of interventions by Linda’s mother failed to produce a controlled arc, I suggested to Mrs. Delker that she briefly take the cane from Linda the next time she failed to heed a verbal warning to use the cane properly. Linda once again inappropriately swung the cane. Mrs. Delker took the cane and told Linda she would have to walk the mall holding her (Mom’s) hand, not using the cane, if she were to again swing the cane improperly.
At this point I suggested that perhaps Linda was tired and we should conclude the evaluation. It is significant to note that no additional misuse of the cane occurred as we returned to the car! In my opinion, the modification of Linda’s negative behavior, which coincided with the prospect of losing the cane because of misuse, demonstrated the value she places on the cane. As we left the mall, Linda found a two-foot drop-off with the cane. She knelt down to feel the drop-off, sat down so that her feet were on the lower surface, then stood up again. We returned to the car and concluded the day’s activities.
Evaluation In The School Environment: The evaluation on the morning of May 10, 1993, was conducted at Linda’s school and included the Badger Clark building, Carousel building, and other areas used in the provision of Linda’s education plan.
I began the school portion of the evaluation by observing Linda exiting her main school bus and moving to the small bus in which she waits until a school staff member comes to escort her to the building. In going from the large to the small bus, Linda exhibited excessive vertical raising of the cane similar to what I had observed in the mall on Sunday, May 9, 1993. When leaving the bus and encountering the bus steps, Linda did not seem to know how the cane could provide information regarding the step height. Both of these observed deficits do not represent inability, but instead reflect lack of instruction and consistency of cane usage. It is worth noting that when Linda went up the steps to the second bus, she seemed to instinctively use the cane to locate the next step. Once again, she showed her appreciation for the cane by maintaining constant contact with it at all times.
After a short wait, two school staff persons came to the bus to get Linda. I introduced myself and let them know I was present for the day to observe Linda using the cane at her school. Linda then began to follow the staff to the building, located a metal grate on the sidewalk, crossed it, and proceeded into the building. She followed the staff persons down the hall, located the door to her classroom with her cane, and entered. Without asking Linda’s permission, a staff person took the cane from her and hung it up. At that point I offered to put on a pair of sleepshades and demonstrate how the cane can act as an effective tool in mobility. None of the school staff indicated a desire for me to do so.
Linda’s first class was physical education, and it was necessary to walk approximately one-and-a-half blocks outside to the track area. The staff person who was taking her to the track referred to the cane as a stick. I explained that the proper term was cane, and she apologized. I informed her that no apology was necessary as no one could expect her to know all of the terms related to blindness and visual impairment.
As we continued, I again observed the ease with which Linda switched the cane from one hand to the other. At one point, Linda walked off the sidewalk and onto playground gravel. When asked by the staff person to get back on the sidewalk, Linda located the sidewalk with her cane and, after some independent re-orientation, continued in the proper direction. At another point Linda stepped off the sidewalk onto a grass edge and seemed to be exploring and experimenting with her cane. This action of using her cane as a tool to collect information and to satisfy her curiosity is yet another indicator of her readiness to use the cane.
At one point, the staff person grabbed the cane and was teasing Linda by pulling on the cane and saying they were going to get her with it. I asked the staff person not to engage in this kind of activity because Linda, like most students, will benefit from positive reinforcement in the proper treatment of equipment; be it a baseball bat, eyeglasses, or a cane. These examples of the staff’s lack of knowledge regarding blindness are not a negative comment on the staff personnel, but rather reflects the need to empower staff through a specialized in-service training conducted by professionals and blind role models.
As we came back from physical education and were approaching the building, the staff person asked me if I wanted Linda to trail along the wall. I told her that I preferred that Linda not do this since the cane could find things for her which she would miss if she were just trailing the wall. Furthermore, by using the cane Linda would be developing transferable skills. When asked for additional information I explained that if a maintenance worker or teacher left a toolbox or some other item in the hall, trailing the wall would result in a collision. On the other hand, when using the cane correctly, items hurriedly placed in the hall could be easily detected and walked around. To the credit of the staff person, this explanation made sense to her.
Just before we entered the building Linda began to tap more heavily, again indicating her ability to use echolocation information produced by the cane. She stomped a few times, to confirm the cane information, and proceeded into the building. Once inside, her speed increased as she walked down the hall without trailing. Soon she asked the staff person if she could stop by the office and was allowed to do so. When she was in the proximity of the office, she heard sound cues coming from within. She extended her cane to her left and entered the office without contacting the door. Even the staff person commented on how well Linda was doing with the cane.
As Linda left the office, again smoothly passing through the door, she turned
left to proceed to her homeroom. The staff person and I arrived at the homeroom
and paused; Linda continued past the door approximately thirty feet. She stopped,
without comment from either the staff person or myself, turned around, and walked
back to the door. When she reached the door, she swung the cane into the opening
and then she entered. The staff person acted very appropriately, allowing Linda
to discover and resolve her error on her own.
Once again I extended an offer to demonstrate, under sleepshades, the full cane technique used by blind persons. I told the staff persons they had but to ask. No one asked to have the demonstration.
While waiting for Linda in her home room I heard an instructor outside the classroom repeat twice to a sighted student, “Please keep your hands off the wall; we have art work on the walls.” Encouraging trailing walls in place of using the cane does not facilitate mainstream efforts, but instead serves to enhance differences between Linda and her peers. This subtle and unnecessary allowance can have negative implications for both Linda’s self-concept and the expectations which peers have for Linda.
The next significant event, related to this assessment, occurred when it became time to go from Linda’s homeroom to her mainstream class. A staff person informed Linda that it was time to go to Carousel (her mainstream classroom). Another student in the class was looking at Linda’s cane. The staff person, while retrieving the cane from the lad, informed Linda they were running late and would have to hurry. As she finished her statement the staff person hung up the cane, took Linda’s hand, and proceeded down the hall. Approximately one quarter of the way to the mainstream classroom I heard Linda ask for her cane. The staff person told her that they were late and didn’t have time for the cane. Linda’s question reflects the value she places on her cane. The response to the question indicates the need for staff training regarding the importance of cane usage in the development of self-confidence and independence.
That failure to permit Linda to have her cane with her was a lost opportunity to reinforce her independence. Indeed, after arriving at the mainstream classroom, Linda needed to go from one location in the room to another. The staff person told her to go on over. Then, almost immediately she said, “Take my hand; there are kids on the floor.” Again, this was another example of a lost opportunity to teach Linda and her peers that blind people can do things by themselves.
Next, the class members, including Linda, were asked to go outside and get an egg carton which had been filled with dirt and planted. Linda’s assigned staff person accompanied her, helped her find a carton, and lined up with her to come back into the building. They had stopped just prior to the sidewalk while waiting for other children to move inside. When the staff person indicated to Linda that the line was moving, Linda moved forward, caught her toe on the edge of the sidewalk, and almost fell. With the cane Linda could have been in control of her own mobility and collected information relevant to her needs. She might still have stumbled, but then again, maybe not. Because she was not allowed to take her cane to the mainstream class, she did not have it available for recess or for the walk back to her homeroom.
Also, a different staff person led Linda back to homeroom by a different route.
This inconsistency in going to and from various locations occurred several times
and appeared to be the norm. It would be helpful for the staff to learn the
value of Linda’s using the same routes during this early period of learning
how to maintain orientation.
It is salient to the evaluation that Linda, when she used the cane at school, exhibited none of the negative behaviors she had displayed while at the mall on Sunday, May 9. Whatever the cause for this improved respect for using the cane, the absence of negative behavior simply means one less thing the staff at the school would need to modify.
Also noteworthy is that during the morning I observed Linda at school, with the exception of one staff person, no one else prompted her to use either the pre-cane device or the long white cane. Instead the staff consistently took Linda’s hand to accompany her to various class activities.
It is significant to note that, while staff were reluctant to expand their knowledge of the cane, I did observe a high level of commitment and concern for Linda and a good deal of coordinated effort in expanding her knowledge of geometric shapes and enhancing various concepts in general. These efforts should contribute significantly to Linda’s development of spatial awareness and the ability to generalize information when moving about with her cane.
Summary of Findings
1. a willingness and motivation to use the cane;
2. awareness of the value of the cane as a tool to assist her in her mobility;
3. awareness of sound feedback available from the metal cane tip and ability to use same;
4. awareness of texture variables, as they relate to orientation and mobility;
5. good echo/sound cue usage;
6. recognition that the cane can locate objects and openings through purposeful extension of the cane in the desired direction;
7. a willingness to explore her environment with the cane;
8. a firm grip on the cane for extended periods of time;
9. excellent balance in a variety of evaluation environments;
10. an increased pace when using the cane as opposed to trailing the walls; and
11. good travel orientation.
As a result of the evaluation, I make the following recommendations:
1. Future instruction in orientation and mobility be conducted using the long white cane.
2. The cane be used for all independent mobility as often as possible in the school and in home life.
3. Staff, parents, and peers receive in-service training in basic use of the cane by blind role model(s) and professional staff so that they will be better able to reinforce the use of the cane in and out of the school environment.
4. Establish set routes during this early phase of O&M instruction for going to and from classrooms. This will allow Linda to concentrate more on the skills associated with manipulation of the cane and less on keeping oriented.
5. Some emphasis and priority be given to cane usage until Linda develops more skills. For example, perhaps on Mondays and Wednesdays Linda might use all of her allotted time just going to and coming back from, say, physical education (or some other class). Learning independent mobility is a priority on those days. On Tuesdays and Thursdays Linda takes her cane, but may also take a staff person’s hand to quickly get to P.E. so she can participate. On these days the emphasis is on class participation. This approach is suggested as an interim solution, pending Linda’s development of speed and self-confidence in using the cane. Careful consideration should be given in a plan of this nature to assure minimum disruption of her academic curriculum.
Those were my findings but the school continued to resist the Delkers’ request for Linda to receive instruction in the use of the long white cane. Indeed, the Douglas School District chose to contest the payment of my services even though it is the right of parents to seek outside evaluation in cases where the school and parents disagree.
In July of 1993 the Hearing Officer handed down his ruling and found in favor of Mr. and Mrs. Delker and ordered the Douglas School District to reimburse the Delkers’ for the cost of the independent evaluation. The school district has since obtained the regular services of an O&M instructor for Linda Perez, and she is reported to be making fine progress in the use of the cane, using it not only at home, but also in school!
Doug Boone is still in the consulting and training business as D. Boone Consulting. A resident of Kalamazoon, Michigan, he consults with and trains staff for rehabilitation agencies and schools for the blind. His intense training sessions feature blindfold experiences that focus on the cane and the possibilities available to blind people when skills are developed. He can be reached at <firstname.lastname@example.org>.
by Denise Mackenstadt, NOMC
Orientation and Mobility Specialist
Editor’s Note: Denise Mackenstadt has over thirty years of experience working with blind people. For ten years she was a paraeducator and Braille transcriber in the public schools. From 1994 to 2004 she served as a trustee of the board of the Washington State School for the Blind. In 2001 she received the National Federation of the Blind’s Distinguished Educator of Blind Children Award for her exemplary performance as a paraprofessional working with blind students. In 2004 she graduated from the Stephen F. Austin State University preparation program for orientation and mobility instructors, and in 2005 she was certified by the National Blindness Professional Certification Board as a national orientation and mobility certified (NOMC) instructor. She currently works under contract for two local school districts in the Puget Sound area of Washington State as an itinerant mobility instructor. She is also under contract with a local birth-to-three program. Her current caseload includes students from preschool through high school, including students with multiple disabilities. Her professionalism is solidly grounded in a lifelong relationship with consumers. She is the wife of Gary Mackenstadt, a long-time NFB leader, and is a leader in her own right in her state affiliate and in the National Organization of Parents of Blind Children. In the following article Mackenstadt sets forth her vision of the components of a good orientation and mobility program for students in a public school setting.
Author’s Note: I wrote this article to articulate what the components of a good program serving public school blind students should look like. Much of the literature in the field has been written by instructors from residential programs for blind or visually impaired students or university professors. In recent years the education of blind children has been affected by No Child Left Behind (NCLB) and changes in the delivery of special education services. We have literature that addresses the itinerant programs for visually impaired students, but very little about orientation and mobility programs. Very little material addresses the delivery of services using the structured-discovery learning approach in the itinerant setting. I hope that parents, mobility instructors, and others interested in the teaching of travel skills to blind children will read this article and begin to expect better mobility training for blind students.
Terminology: The instruction in independent travel by blind people is variously called mobility, orientation and mobility, O&M, or cane travel training. I use all of these terms interchangeably in this article. Also the student who uses these skills may be called blind, visually impaired (VI), partially sighted, legally blind, or low vision. I do not like to use the term legally blind because this definition does not apply to all of the students who need mobility instruction. To simplify and to save space, I use the term “blind” to describe all students whose vision cannot be corrected to within normal limits and who, for safety and efficiency, need to learn to use nonvisual tools or techniques as alternatives to limited vision.
In this section
• Guided Learning
• Structured Discovery
• Nonvisual Skills Training
• Role Release
• Family Role
In the field of orientation and mobility instruction, two terms describe distinctive instructional philosophies and methods: guided learning (conventional approach) and structured-discovery learning. Many instructors trained in O&M university programs may assert that they use discovery learning in their teaching; however, this is not always demonstrated by the way they work with students.
Typical elements of the guided-learning approach
• Rigid sequence of instruction
• Route travel
• Technique-driven instruction
• Primacy of the O&M instructor--does not incorporate other staff or the family in instruction
Guided learning methods are organized in a rigid sequence of instruction. For example, the typical sequence is to begin with human-guide (sometimes called sighted-guide) technique. This is a skill that can be taught in a half hour, but in the conventional approach instruction takes place over several lessons. Even the student who has been using a human guide is required to go through these lessons. This rigid sequence of instruction can lead to frustration and boredom in a student who is ready for instruction in the use of the cane.
Abiding by this sequence can also delay progress for students who have problems mastering a specific skill. For example, some students with motor difficulties have a hard time learning to hold the cane in a particular way. The conventional approach requires the student to learn to hold his or her cane in a prescribed manner, even if the student can meet the standard of effectively and safely covering the path of travel by using a modified cane hold. Again, this rigid approach can be frustrating and defeating for the student.
Routes (set patterns of travel) are a major component of the guided-learning approach. Diverging from the route is discouraged. A good deal of the instructional time is spent on a series of routes to locations that are part of a student’s daily activity. A typical route for an elementary student may be learning to go to music from his or her regular classroom and back. For example, the student might be instructed to shoreline a building, turn right at the end of the wall, cross a short passage way, then use the building line to find the door to the music classroom. No deviation from this route is tolerated even if the student could reach the same destination by another path. In addition, the student is not expected to use other orientation skills that could transfer to other parts of the building or campus.
For some students route travel is an appropriate approach. Teaching a set route does not require a great deal of time. Once the student has learned the route, her instruction is complete. However, some students will not be able to remember the complex steps in many routes. In addition, this method does not allow for flexibility. Let’s say that the student who has learned the route described above goes to school one day and the schedule has been changed. Instead of going to music from the classroom, the student has to go to the music classroom from the playground area. But the student does not have the problem-solving experience to use other environmental clues to get to music class. Routes have been planned for him or her without taking into consideration that these routes do not meet the needs of the student in all circumstances.
Guided learning emphasizes specific and detailed techniques. It dictates precisely how a student must hold a cane, use a human guide, or navigate a blocked pathway. Again, for some students this may be appropriate, but most blind people naturally adapt techniques for their own specific personalities and lifestyle. It is important to discourage sloppy techniques that will endanger the student, but some flexibility is necessary to allow for the development of a relaxed and confident traveler.
Many conventionally trained O&M instructors are convinced that only an O&M teacher is capable of giving instruction in the use of a cane. This would be adequate if the student were with a trained mobility instructor twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, but that’s not possible. So, for real progress to be made, it is necessary to give guidance to the other people who are part of the blind student’s life. In this way, as it is with reading or writing, parents, teachers, and other responsible adults who work with the student need to reinforce and encourage the child to practice so that he or she can integrate mobility skills into everyday activities. This is one of the strengths of the structured-discovery learning approach, as described next:
Typical elements of Structured-Discovery Learning
• Sequence of instruction is guided by functional needs.
• Routes are not so much taught as discovered by using critical thinking and problem-solving.
• Emphasis is on transferable skills.
• Techniques used are guided by the student’s developmental stage.
• Other adults, professional and personal, are included as part of the instructional team.
It is important to have a sequence of instruction that builds to more complex and difficult skills. However, this sequence should be determined in part by the student’s immediate needs as well as his or her long-term goals. Techniques learned in isolation will not be internalized by the student. The instructor must be aware at all times of the student’s functional needs as the student progresses in learning mobility skills and techniques. This sequence must be flexible because opportunities for learning that may not fit neatly into the prescribed sequence of instruction come up. Flexibility is the hallmark of a good instructor. Good educators take advantage of unexpected teachable moments.
Structured-discovery learning demands that students work constructively with the environment. For example, if a student is learning to travel from the playground to the classroom at the end of recess, the instructor guides the student to notice other students’ movements and discover terrain details (restroom doors, water fountains, exhaust fan noise, etc.) that would be useful in finding the classroom. The instructor provides guidance only in interpreting the environmental clues and how to use them in traveling. As a result the student learns the clues that can be used in a variety of travel situations.
The student develops routes by interpreting the clues that come to his or her attention and discovers ways of using these clues to meet different travel needs. He or she learns to work with a variety of environmental clues while gaining flexibility and confidence.
Travel skills must be transferable to other situations to enhance one’s ability to live, work, and go to school. Discovering how to use basic clues, a young traveler becomes confident in tackling any travel situation.
Spatial orientation and motor skills begin developing at a very early age. Movement is the major ingredient in developing these skills in an age-appropriate order. This is why it is very important to include orientation and mobility instruction at a young age. Requisite skills such as good spatial orientation (knowing up from down, left from right, over from under, front from back, etc.) and motor skills (grasping with fingers and thumb, balance, pulling, pushing, crossing midline, etc.) must be in place before advanced skills can be taught. A solid foundation in these skills enables the student to discover and develop more and more complex skill sets. There is more to O&M than walking on sidewalks and taking buses. These advanced skills become more difficult for the student to learn if the basic developmental concepts that are a part of independent movement are not in place.
So which approach is best--guided learning (the conventional approach) or structured-discovery learning? Good cane travel (O&M) instructors will include elements of both approaches. In the end, whatever the approach, the outcome must be that the student has the ability to process environmental information, think through what this information means, and do it while traveling independently.
• Build confidence in learned skills
• Build on efficient use of partial vision
Most blind people have partial vision. Often this limited vision can prove to be more of a hindrance than a help. Most people use partial vision beyond what is practical or efficient. It is presumptuous to think that the student is not using his or her vision to its fullest degree. In fact vision is a consuming sense. Using sight generally overpowers our other senses. To learn nonvisual skills effectively with our senses of hearing, touching, and smelling, one needs to incorporate a method that will not allow vision to dominate. Anyone who has learned to keyboard (touch type) has had this experience. Often the only way to counter the bad habit of looking at our hands is to cover the keyboard during the learning process. This is common sense. This is why using a blindfold is the most effective and efficient way to teach nonvisual techniques.
However, we must not expect children to react to blindfolds the same way adults react. We do an injustice to the flexibility and openness of children when we project onto them our own fears and apprehensions. All of which is to say that most children will not have problems accepting blindfolds in O&M training if it is presented to them in a positive, creative way.
• Training additional staff to reinforce skills learned when the O&M specialist is not present
• Including family members in the student’s daily O&M training
The O&M instructor has a limited amount of time to spend with a student. This creates a challenge because repetition is an essential element in skill development, and mobility skills are used in every aspect of the blind person’s life. So how can students get the practice they need? The student comes in contact with many other staff members throughout the school day. It is important, therefore, for the O&M instructor to spend time with these staff members to train them and support them in working with the blind student. With repetition and practice the student will develop confidence and belief in him- or herself as a competent traveler. Independent travel is directly related to what can be called road time--that is, practice and repetition. Clearly, including other school personnel as part of the O&M support team is essential in meeting the educational needs of the blind student.
The professional O&M instructor must include family members as part of the educational team. Most families understand the importance of the goal of traveling independently, but rarely if ever see it in practice. They may never have seen a blind adult or child travel independently with a cane. Imagine what it would be like to be a nondriving parent whose teen is taking driving lessons, but who has never seen a car, much less seen one driven. It is not reasonable for the instructor to believe that a parent can support meaningful travel training for a child without having knowledge of the capabilities of independent blind travelers. Therefore it is important for the O&M instructor to educate parents about the skills their children are learning. Blind children are usually delighted when they can share these new skills with their own families.
• Appropriate length of cane
• Tactile and resonant qualities of different cane materials
• Rigid versus folding canes
• Cane tip characteristics
• Blindfolds (sleepshades)
One of the primary functions of the cane is to detect objects and drop-offs. Just as in driving a car, a certain amount of reaction time is necessary to slow down or stop. Using short canes either trainees have to extend their arms, locking the elbow in place to extend the reach of the cane to provide greater reaction time, or they have to slow down. Young children get tired or bored or frustrated too easily to extend their arms stiffly for any length of time, so why not avoid these problems by starting with a longer cane? Blind kids also need to run, skip, and physically move about and play just like sighted children. A longer cane allows them to do this with greater safety and security.
Regarding the composition of the cane, some materials, such as fiberglass or carbon fiber, conduct tactile information more efficiently than others such as aluminum. In addition, lighter canes made of fiberglass or carbon fiber also provide better resonance--a sensory input that helps a blind person determine surface texture and other meaningful characteristics in understanding the environment.
For the beginner a rigid cane is ideal. Tactile feedback is enhanced by the continuous shaft of the straight cane. Breaking a cane into its connecting pieces adds to the weight, and the breaks in the cane inhibit sensory feedback. Then there is the mindset of the student who is just beginning to use a cane every day. A student, especially an older one, may be uncomfortable using a cane at first. An easy way to avoid using it is to fold up the cane and put it away. Of course, as the student matures and gains skill and comfort with the cane, he or she may need different canes, including a telescoping or folding cane, for many reasons, and that’s certainly okay.
Cane tip characteristics are important. The commonly used nylon tip does not give the tactile, resonant, or auditory feedback that a flat, disk-shaped metal tip gives. In addition, a lighter tip (such as the metal tip) maintains the balance of the lighter cane shaft. If a student does not keep the tip on the ground, you can add weight just above the tip of the lighter cane without compromising these characteristics.
The positive results of learning nonvisual techniques by using a blindfold were discussed earlier in this article. To reiterate: the blindfold is a tool, nothing more, nothing less. It is not a device to mimic total blindness. It is an instructional tool in the same way that a number line on a student’s desk is an instructional tool. After the student has mastered place value in math, it is not necessary to have a number line placed on the desk. Another example is a young baseball player who uses a batting tee until he or she can hit a pitched ball. So it is with using a blindfold in mobility training.
Precane devices are constructed from PVC piping and are used as an alternative to the cane. They are often introduced to the very young student before he or she is instructed in the use of the regular long white cane. It has not been adequately demonstrated that learning to use the precane in any way improves the student’s capacity to use the long white cane later. In fact the pre-cane device requires a different set of motor skills than does the long white cane. Since it is more difficult to unlearn a skill than to learn a new one, it therefore seems more sensible to begin with developmentally sound instruction in the use of the long white cane. If the student has other physical problems such as an orthopedic disability, then techniques using common support devices such as crutches or walkers can be devised.
• O&M Goals and Objectives
o Age appropriate/stage appropriate
o Short term – long term
o Across a variety of environments
• Appropriate service time for O&M
As the educational team formulates an IEP, the mobility instructor must be an integral part of the process. The skills of independence are as essential as any academic achievement. Movement is an important ingredient in cognitive development. Movement encourages a developing neurosystem to mature. Body awareness, spatial orientation, and motor planning are all linked to movement experiences. These skills are also part of learning literacy skills, i.e., reading and writing. It is unfortunate when a highly intelligent blind student is limited because he or she is not able to move about independently in the neighborhood, home, or school. As much attention needs to be given to mobility goals as is given to Braille or other academic goals.
Each goal should be appropriate for the student’s age or developmental stage. Blind students should have the goal of moving about freely, safely, and independently in the same environments as their sighted peers. Instructors and parents should be aware of school and community activities in which children participate. These activities should be used to attain mobility goals. Goals must have long-term outcomes and reflect real life needs. For example, a family may be concerned about their child’s ability to be comfortable in the local playground. The goal then may be for the student to understand and learn appropriate use of the playground equipment at school (a skill that, when taught from the Discovery-Learning approach, will be transferable to the local playground equipment). A short-term objective should be a building block to achieve the overall mobility goal. Using the playground example, the question may be asked, does the student feel safe using climbing equipment? An objective for this goal may then be to use the large climbing apparatus independently.
It is helpful to break down the student’s daily activities and write objectives that reflect each step he or she will take towards performing tasks at school and in the community with peers. Keep in mind that orientation and mobility skills are life skills that will be necessary for an independent adult life.
A good orientation and mobility program considers the following factors when recommending O&M service time in the IEP:
• Minutes driven by goals and objectives
• Variety of experiences
• Extended School Year (ESY)
• Summer training programs
Service time is the most difficult aspect of the IEP. The minutes of service should be driven by the goals and objectives, not by budget constraints. If the orientation and mobility specialist provides good intensive service in the beginning stages of each transition in the student’s school career, then later, when the student has achieved the appropriate skills, the instructor can reconfigure the service time, such as having fewer sessions and longer lessons. The direct service time is accounted for in number of minutes offered in a certain time period, typically per week. The time should also include how long each session should be and how many sessions per week. In an ideal mobility program for blind students, there is no need for formal mobility training for the entire twelve years of school. Administrators have hesitated to provide appropriate minutes in the beginning of training, fearing that they will be locked into this service time for the student’s entire school career. This concern can be overcome if the educational team, including the parents, understand and agree upon the necessity of building in flexibility so that the focus is on the child, and therefore the child’s needs drive the program.
A student may initially need frequent short lessons in order to learn the requisite skills for residential travel. However, when these skills are acquired, the student will need less frequent instruction but more time per lesson to perfect and internalize these skills through practice and repetition. It’s not unlike learning skills associated with a sport. It doesn’t take very long to learn how to hold and swing a bat, but developing that skill to the level of becoming a consistently competent player takes much time and practice. Attention span also needs to be considered. A young child will be able to work for only a short period of time, while an older student will be able to work for longer periods. A child’s maturation does not necessarily follow the school year or IEP cycle. A program needs the flexibility to change when a child’s maturity level suddenly takes a leap in the middle of the year.
The instructor will need time to consult with and provide support in the student’s school day. In addition to direct service, the school needs to allow time for the mobility instructor to do staff development. When the support staff working with the student is trained, the student will gain more practice during the school day than that which is allowed for by scheduling restrictions. The mobility instructor may need to use indirect instructional time. During this time the mobility instructor may want to observe the way the blind student travels during times not normally used for direct instruction, e.g., PE and recess.
Scheduling is a very difficult part of providing itinerant services. Time needs to be carved out of other areas of the school day, and that is not easy because everything is important. It is not fair to pull a student from his or her physical education or music class every year. The schedules of other specialists, such as occupational therapists, speech therapists, and so forth, need to be considered. The orientation and mobility specialist must work with a student in a variety of environments, some of which require extra time simply to get to the appropriate location (residential neighborhood, local business area, a local office building, etc.). Again, flexibility is essential. Some solutions include doing a multi-student field trip lesson. Kids gain much by observing each other and working together. O&M time can be scheduled before or after school, or on short attendance days. Instruction can occur in the home of the preschool or kindergarten student if the parents are willing. And, with approval from the school administration, a secondary student may be able to receive vocational credit for his mobility program, thereby working it into her or his regular schedule without losing precious time from other subjects.
Competency and confidence in independent travel with the white cane are directly related to what was earlier described as road time. The student needs to practice, practice, practice, and practice some more. Therefore the orientation and mobility program must incorporate practice time. Homework can be assigned. As an example, during summer break the student may be assigned to practice going to the bus stop twice a day. The family is an essential part of this practice experience. Many times parents are at a loss about what to do to support the development of their child’s mobility skills, but they want to help. The mobility instructor can give the family goals to work on at home. The family can take on the duty of practicing once a week going to the bus stop and returning to the house. A list of locations can be given for the blind child to explore with parents or siblings. Examples can be the local grocery store, the local mall, and the local playground. At these locations the parents are to describe and explore at the child’s pace and interest level.
The mobility specialist must enlist other school staff to help the student properly use skills during the regular school day. The regular classroom teacher can put into place incentive plans to encourage the student to travel. One of these tasks may be to go to the lunchroom independently. When the student performs this task on several consecutive occasions, the teacher may give special free time or even agree to have a special lunch with the blind student and a friend. Ask the parents and/or support staff to journal the student’s activities and highlight what she or he is doing independently. This will allow the O&M instructor to structure activities that will encourage continued practice in needed areas. Again, road time is the key to proficiency.
All children need a wealth of experiences. Childhood is all about experiencing new events and activities. The thrill of watching as a child takes her or his first trip to the zoo, rides a bicycle for the first time, or investigates an insect on the ground is one of the many joys of being a parent or teacher. While their children are young, parents should take the opportunity to expose their children to a wide array of experiences. The professional teaches the skills of good mobility in a constrained environment. Time and location are restricted. Families have the ability to expand on these mobility opportunities. This is why the cane travel professional must take the time to educate family members about the skills, tools, and principles of independent travel by the blind. The ultimate goal for the blind traveler is to be confident enough to travel in any environment, familiar or unfamiliar. Using these skills in a variety of environments in the presence of supportive family members will help the student to recognize that these skills can be transferred to any circumstance.
During the IEP process and in the IEP itself, the O&M instructor needs to establish that mobility skills are essential life skills. Also IEP goals for O&M need to be written globally for what the child needs, not for what the school thinks it can provide within a school year. Continued instruction and working in a variety of circumstances are the advantages of using the Extended School Year (ESY) or summer school provisions of the IEP for summer experience. One of the major requirements for justification of ESY services is that, without it, the student will lose skills over the summer which cannot be recouped within a reasonable time when instruction begins in the fall. By asking for ESY services very early in the student’s school career, a good precedent is established. Orientation and mobility skills are performance skills that can become effective only if practiced and learned consistently. The only way to provide this instruction without missing critical classroom time is to provide instruction outside of school time. The summer is the logical time to provide this service. If the mobility instructor is available, he or she will perform the instruction. If an individual instructor is not available, the teachers and parents may need to look at alternative ways to provide this instruction. More intensive programs such as the NFB-run summer programs for blind kids, other camps, or programs at state schools for the blind may fulfill the requirements. Contracting with another school jurisdiction to include your child in their ESY summer program may be a solution. Your state rehabilitation agency may have private contractors available to provide mobility instruction. In other words, a staff person employed by the local school district is not the only way to provide ESY orientation and mobility service.
Orientation and mobility specialists are in short supply. At times, even with a good deal of hard work, a school district will not be able to find an instructor. This does not negate its responsibility to provide this essential training. Through collaboration and with some creative thinking, the staff and family can find other means of providing this service. One possibility is to place the student in her or his local residential school for the blind. Some schools have designed short-term placement programs to get students up to speed in skills and back to their local district in the shortest amount of time possible. Of course the student and parents must be in agreement on such a placement. In addition, because this is a more restrictive placement for the blind student, it is desirable to have a mutual understanding of how and when it will be determined that the child has achieved a sufficient level of skills that a return to the local district is possible. Again, the best solution may be to make creative use of the summer and vacation periods as opportunities for the student to gain intensive and comprehensive training.
A secondary student of transition age, fourteen to twenty-one years old, may qualify for a variety of training and work experience programs provided throughout the country specifically for blind students. All of these programs are used to including students from outside their own state. It is necessary to be sure that whatever program is considered will be appropriate for meeting the student’s needs. Some programs require a certain amount of independent living skill, while other programs will take students with minimal self-care experience and work with them on beginning skills. For a public school student who has had very little contact with other blind peers, these environments can be very uplifting and a boost to her or his self-esteem. In addition, these programs can provide an intensive and comprehensive period of instruction. Instead of seeing a mobility specialist once a week or even once a month, the student is immersed in an environment where daily instruction is provided, and furthermore, the student is expected to exercise independent mobility skills throughout the training program.
As much care and time needs to be given to the planning and implementing of a good orientation and mobility program for blind students as is given to academic subjects. Many times mobility instruction is an afterthought. Blind adults can vividly recall their mobility instruction as a blind child. It was an important part of their school career. In addition, good travel skills can make or break the future independence and fulfillment of a blind person. This article has only skimmed the surface. However, hopefully further discussion of good mobility services in the public schools will command the passion that Braille instruction initiatives have had in recent years.
Castellano, Carol (2005). Making It Work: Educating Blind/Visually Impaired
Student in the Regular School. Greenwich, Connecticut: Information Age
Cutter, Joseph (2007). Independent Movement and Travel in Blind Children: A Promotion Model. Charlotte, North Carolina: Information Age Publishing.
Fazzi, Diane L. and Barbara A. Petersmeyer (2001). Imagining the Possibilities: Creative Approaches to Orientation and Mobility Instruction for Persons Who Are Visually Impaired. New York: AFB Press.
Willoughby Doris M. and Sharon L. Monthei (1998) Modular Instruction for Independent Travel for Students Who Are Blind or Visually Impaired: Preschool Through High School. Baltimore, MD: National Federation of the Blind.
by Craig Eckhardt
Editor’s Note: The following is an excerpt from a speech Craig Eckhardt gave a few years ago at the NFB of Arizona state convention. Craig, a resident of Glendale, Arizona, had just completed the Colorado Center for the Blind’s summer program for high school students. These remarks were first published in the Arizona affiliate’s newsletter and then later in Future Reflections, Volume 19, Number 1.
I would like to begin by telling you a little bit about myself. I am fifteen years old, and I am a sophomore at Moon Valley High School in Phoenix. I am partially blind.
Until last summer, I was confused, restricted in my thinking and in my activities, and without direction or plans as to what I was going to do with my life. I had not yet been introduced to the National Federation of the Blind.
At the end of May, when the school year was coming to a close, I was anxiously dreading summer. I really had no plans except to stay up until 3 a.m. every night and watch TV. Actually, what I really wanted to do was to find a job. But no one was hiring and, besides, I was too young to get regular employment.
Then one day as I was pondering my dilemma, I received a packet in the mail from my uncle. It was information about some place called the Colorado Center for the Blind in Denver.
Apparently, my parents had told my uncle about my problem of what to do for
the summer. He knew about the Colorado program for blind high school students,
so he sent me the information.
As we studied the information, I learned that it wasn’t like a summer camp. It was more like a school for the blind and partially blind. Immediately upon hearing that awful word, “school,” my interest faded. I thought I had had enough of school for the year already.
I was about to give up on the Denver idea when I suddenly saw it, the word, “JOB.” A summer job was what I really wanted! After I saw “job,” I became interested all over again. Finally, it looked like I would have the chance to earn some extra cash.
It was at this time that I met up with the National Federation of the Blind. Since I was not a client of vocational rehabilitation services, I had to find some other way to pay for the tuition to attend the Colorado Center school. My mother contacted Jim Omvig and Bruce Gardner, blind leaders of the NFB of Arizona, and, somehow, they took care of it.
On June 7, I flew to Denver to begin my training and job. I didn’t know what to expect, but I was excited. When I arrived at the Denver airport, my counselor, who would also be my roommate for the next two months, met me. Because of the small number of participants, I thought that the place would be small. To my surprise, however, we pulled up to the Cherry Creek Club Apartment Complex. And what a complex it was. It consisted of fourteen hundred public apartments, two pools, a hot tub, and it was all laid out in the middle of Denver.
Later that day, I attended a little get-together with the other students and staff. During that meeting our group discussed several rules, including curfew. A couple of days after that I became familiar with my surroundings—including the apartment complex, a couple of markets close by, and the bus route to the Center.
My first day of classes was interesting. Quickly I was introduced to Braille, cane travel, and what I first thought would be my mortal enemy—blindfolds, also called “SLEEPSHADES!” I didn’t really have a problem with sleepshades, except that I hated them. Every time I had cane travel and had to put those things on, I became so afraid. However, after a time, I became used to the shades. I still didn’t like them, but I learned to handle it.
Of course we did other activities, too, like rock climbing (under sleepshades), traveling to the mall on the bus (under sleepshades), and buying groceries (under sleepshades). I asked why sleepshades were so stressed in this program. I was told that it is important for those of us with some remaining vision to learn to use that sight efficiently, and not to try to over-use it when it wasn’t helpful. Also, if you learned to rely on your other senses and on blind techniques, you wouldn’t be so afraid and would become more independent.
Independent. Now that was a word that made me ponder. I was not even familiar with the word. But all through the program I noticed how independence was displayed and discussed. My life had always revolved around set schedules, and everything was always laid out for me. Basically, you could say that I had been restrained from independent life, and I hadn’t even known it.
As I learned about independence, things went well. I even got the chance to go to New Orleans to the National Convention of the National Federation of the Blind. The convention was overwhelming. Every day I was so busy going to seminars, visiting the exhibit hall, and generally having a good time, that I can say I literally never got out of the hotel. But that was OK since everything at the convention was unforgettable and inspiring.
After our group got back from the convention it was time to start our jobs. I was honored to work at a federal center cafeteria. The job was fun and interesting, as I had expected. But I soon learned an amazing thing—the job wasn’t my biggest interest as I had thought that it would be. I realized that the job was but a small part of everything I was doing in the program. Yes, everything—Braille class, cane travel, rock climbing, the NFB convention, and the job—they were just parts of one program.
All the parts seemed to somehow connect around one focus, around one meaning. I’ve thought about this meaning for a long time. I finally concluded that all the activities and all the events had to focus around the idea of independence. Finally, it all made sense. And, because of this, other things in my life started to make sense, too. I wasn’t nearly as hesitant and confused as I had been when I started the program. Suddenly, I found out that doors and opportunities were opening up for me. I discovered it then, and I know it now—I have choices. I don’t have to be limited or held back just because I am partially blind. I am an individual, and I have individual needs. Thanks to the National Federation of the Blind, I now realize this. And let me tell you that just knowing and understanding this gives me a great feeling. This knowledge is very important to me; and I am thankful to the NFB that I have gained it.
I would like to thank all of you for letting me speak today, and for helping me to experience some of the best months of my life. The NFB has helped me to feel confident and to get my first real taste of INDEPENDENCE—it’s great!
From the Editor: The Colorado Center for the Blind is one of three rehabilitation training centers for the blind operated by the National Federation of the Blind. During the summer months, all three centers offer special programs for blind children and youth. They are truly outstanding programs, the best in the country.
Program directors will discuss fees and funding with you, but here are a few suggestions about possible funding sources: (1) For older youth age sixteen and up, investigate rehabilitation funding under transition services. (2) Explore with your school district the possibility of using the program to fulfill extended school year services (ESY). (3) If your school district has failed to provide certain services listed on your child’s IEP, ask them to fund a summer program to fulfill their compensatory education services obligation. (4) Check with your local or state NFB and Parents of Blind Children Division affiliates about possible scholarships. If none are available, perhaps your interest, need, and willingness to help can spark interest in getting such a scholarship fund established. (5) Seek assistance from local clubs and organizations.
For more information about NFB training centers, please see the list of resources at the end of this issue.
by Connie Bernard
Editor’s Note: Connie Bernard is an active member of the Indiana NFB affiliate and the Indiana Parents of Blind Children. She wrote the following piece after her experience in the Cane Walk at the 2002 NFB Convention in Louisville, Kentucky. Here is what she says: I knew that the 2002 National Federation of the Blind convention was going to be a learning experience for me. It was my third convention, but my first as a parent of a blind child. My seven-year-old daughter, Aryel, was diagnosed with tunnel vision and night blindness earlier this year. At the convention, I planned to learn about such things as IEP’s and print-versus-Braille for partially sighted children. I had even decided to explore whether or not to get Aryel a long white cane.
After talking to Joe Cutter (an early childhood O&M specialist) at the parent seminar, I decided to get up bright and early the next morning and take Aryel to the annual Cane Walk: an activity sponsored by the National Organization of Parents of Blind Children and the Louisiana Tech orientation and mobility master’s degree program. I listened to the speakers talk about the need to get white canes into the hands of children as early as possible, and how even children with partial sight can benefit from using a cane, and I began to conclude that Aryel should get a cane, even if she only needed it in certain situations, as I do.
Next was the hands-on part of the walk. I knew that the instructor was going to put a sleepshade on Aryel and teach her how to gain information using the long white cane and her other senses. Imagine my surprise when that same instructor said, “You’re going to try it too, aren’t you, Mom?” and handed me a pair of sleepshades. I couldn’t refuse. I was not about to give my child the idea that using sleepshades was frightening. So, I slipped my glasses in my pocket, put the sleepshades on, took a firm grip on my cane, and said, “Let’s do it.”
Now, I’m not new to orientation and mobility lessons. As a partially sighted teenager, I had some minor training in high school and than a little more a few years ago. But I had always avoided the sleepshade. It scared me. I had a nagging idea that I wouldn’t be able to avoid hazards in time. Even when using my vision, I have a huge fear of falling down stairs. But I wasn’t about to show fear or hesitation to Aryel.
My instructor gave me directions on how to get around the large room we were in. There were tables and lots of people to avoid, but by trusting her directions and the information from my cane, I safely traveled the room. This was starting to be fun. Then she directed me to an area of the room and asked me to figure out what was there. I hit something slightly rounded with the tip of my cane. My first thought was a table, but it didn’t quite feel right for a table. I put my hands up and out to see what it was, and was immediately stopped by my teacher. “Walk up to it, and then put out your hands,” I was told. In no time I figured out that it was the cold drink machine. My instructor asked me to pretend to buy a soda; Coke, since it’s always the top one. Once we examined the microwave, the microwave stand, and the other vending machines, it was time to take that Big Step out into the hallway.
At first, walking down the hall was disorienting. I had an odd floating sensation. I could feel every dip and rise in the floor under my feet, and feel the air currents on my face. I could tell simply by the air movement and the sounds whether the hallway was wide or narrow at a given point.
After learning the basics, my instructor began to give me more challenging assignments. She asked me to identify the elevators, a fire extinguisher, and finally a mail slot. At this point, she put something into my hand and asked me what it was. I knew by the feel, and the stamps, that they were postcards. She asked me to mail them for her. This required me to find the slot to put them in. That was one of the hardest things I did.
I didn’t always get everything right. When I was directed to a window-like spot, and asked what it was, I had no idea. She suggested I use my sense of smell. It didn’t help. I was stumped, so guessed something to do with food service. I was wrong. It was a window that looked into a space with some sort of tarp in it. It looked like some kind of construction area. As soon as it was described to me, I knew right where I was though, because I had noticed it the night before. It was encouraging to know that I could use visual memories combined with other information to figure out exactly where I was.
After that, we rejoined Aryel and her instructor so that she and I could show each other what we had learned. Aryel had been a very good student, both under sleepshade and out. By the end of the lesson she could use proper cane technique. She also knew how a blind orientation and mobility instructor checks on how a student is doing. She watched my instructor checking my technique by letting me hit her cane with mine while she walked backward. A few minutes later, when my instructor was using sleepshades, Aryel got in front of her and did just what she had seen the instructor do with me. We were all very surprised at how quickly she learned.
As soon as the cane walk was over, before she lost her enthusiasm, I took Aryel to the exhibit hall and bought her a cane. She used it, sometimes willingly and sometimes not, the rest of the week. I also bought two sets of sleepshades so that we can both practice what we learned. I still want to learn to trust myself on stairs, and Aryel needs to continue to gain confidence in her newfound skill.
This experience taught me that just because a person is blind it doesn’t mean that he or she doesn’t have as clear an understanding of his/her surroundings as does a sighted person. Sometimes I think a blind person may even have more awareness because he/she pays attention, whereas most sighted people just look and go on by. Blind people don’t have better senses than sighted people; they just have better trained ones. I was amazed at what can be learned about a place without seeing it.
I recommend that any parent of a blind child try working under sleepshade with an orientation and mobility teacher so that he or she can better understand the amount of information that really is available through the use of a long white cane.
What can the cane do for my child? Who should teach my child to use the cane and travel independently? What type of cane is best? How long should the cane be? How should my child hold the cane? What should I do, as the parent, to encourage good cane habits? What should I avoid doing? These are among the most common questions that parents raise about cane travel (O&M) instruction. Here are answers reprinted from the publications of our favorite authors and cane travel experts: Joe Cutter, Doris Willoughby, and Sharon Monthei (see the Resource section in this issue for details about those publications and how to obtain them). Also included is a do’s and don’ts list compiled by the National Organization of Parents of Blind Children. Let’s get started with the most basic question:
by Joseph Cutter
Reprinted with permission from Joseph Cutter, Independent Movement and Travel in Blind Children: A Promotion Model. A Volume in Critical Concerns in Blindness (IAP--Information Age Publishing, Inc., 2007), 149-153.
Editor’s Note: Although a couple of the functions listed below are specific to very young children, most of the list applies to all ages. Perhaps the only function of the cane that Cutter does not list is the use of a cane as an identifier to others that one is blind. Since most states have legislation based on the model White Cane Law which require vehicles to give the right of way to pedestrians carrying a white cane, that can be an important function. As a side note, the passage of the state-level White Cane Laws were part of a national campaign led by the National Federation of the Blind. In the mid-sixties, Dr. Jacobus tenBroek, founder of the NFB and a constitutional law expert, reviewed the state of the law for the disabled in an article entitled, “The Right to Live in the World: The Disabled and the Law of Torts.” Stimulated by his research, Dr. tenBroek drafted the model White Cane Law that declares that the blind have a right to be on the streets, highways, and walkways and in public buildings and facilities. In short, it protects blind citizens against discriminatory practices in public places based solely on blindness. But back to functions of the cane. Here is Cutter’s list:
The cane is a handheld tool used for independent move¬ment and travel. It performs many functions. Under the blind child’s direction, it can inform, explore, inspect, detect, protect, and most of all, facilitate getting to know and moving in the world.
To illustrate, the cane is more than a windshield wiper on the world. It is the steering wheel that can be manip¬ulated to where the traveler wants to go and gives direc¬tion for whenever the traveler wants to circumvent an obstacle. It is the headlights giving preview of what’s ahead. It is the bumper protecting from unexpected encounters. It is the antennae receiving resonance infor¬mation about the sound space world. It is the tires, adjusting to the terrain and providing a smoother safe ride. Like the car, the cane is as effective as the driver who must obey the laws of the road. The cane gets children where they want to go.
Below is a list of the basic functions of the cane.
• Tool Usage: In the progression of tool usage, the cane is used intelligently by the child to reach off his/her body and touch the world. It is a handheld tool. With practice, the cane increases the safety, confidence, effectiveness, and efficiency of the child moving about in the world.
• Protector, Detector, and Previewer: The cane conducts information through its shaft into the blind child’s hand. This is often referred to as feedback. The child, as a traveler, then uses this information to decide how and where to go and what to do to get there. Like vision, the cane tells the child what is ahead, detects what is to be avoided or approached, and gives general preview, not only of where the traveler will be stepping next but also echolocation information of objects further away.
• Tool for Action and Sensory Integration: The cane is a tool for active movement. It gathers information. Sensory integration is what children do with sensory information. The cane facilitates sensory integration, as it is a handheld tool used by the upper body that connects to the ground, and this connection affects the movements of the lower body. Occupational and physical therapists who work with blind children can be given guidance to incorporate the cane into their therapy activities. When this is done therapists find that the use of the cane facilitates sensory integration of information. This occurs because the cane conducts information to the child’s hand that travels up the arm into the child’s brain.
The cane decreases the need for self-stimulation by increasing the active movement of the blind child in a purposeful and satisfying way. Therapists agree that the less the child needs to think about the movement, the more automatically it will be done. I can think of no other tool that affords such facilitation of the goal of automatic movement with a handheld tool than the cane.
• Tool for Normalizing Posture and Gait: Use of the long cane assists with
the child’s development of normal gait patterns and posture. The research on
movement in blind children typically reported a wide¬-based stance, abnormal
gait patterns, poor posture, and constriction of the body when moving. These
abnormalities were thought to be due to blindness. We now know otherwise: they
were due to lack of opportunity to use the cane. The lack of opportunity for
the blind child to use the appropriate tool at the appropriate developmental
time caused the abnormalities in posture and gait to occur. With the long cane
the child can stand relaxed and erect, develop typical gait patt¬erns, and
move faster and more confidently.
• Tool for Play: Initially, the cane is used and enjoyed by blind children in their play. The child has fun with it, poking it in snow and bushes or exploring a play¬ground. The child taps it on different surfaces for the fun of hearing echoes. In an amusing, fun way the cane introduces the child to the world beyond the fingertips. Use of the cane stimulates the creative and imaginative nature of the child.
• Low Vision Aid: The cane can be used by partially sighted children to look where their eyes cannot see; for example, the cane looks down or to the side so they can look up. It touches the world for children, offering the possibility that they may want to visually view what it touched. The use of the cane as a low vision aid was covered more extensively in chapter 3 in the section titled “Succeeding with Partial Sight.”
• Tool for Confidence and Self-Esteem: O&M is a confidence-based skill and the early use of the cane introduces the blind child to experiences that increase self-confidence. When introduced early in life, the cane affirms who the blind child is and what must be done to be independent. The child develops confidence earlier in the what and how of independent travel. Such confidence integrates into the personality of the child.
• Tool for Freedom of Movement: The cane affords the opportunities for freedom of movement and joy of movement that is every child’s right. With it children decide where and when to go, and how fast or how slow. The cane facilitates awareness of the child’s movement and this increases attention span while moving and traveling in the environment.
• Tool for Cognitive Development: The cane is a tool that provides opportunities for children to use intelligence in thinking about self-directed movement, making decisions, developing good judgment, and learning to problem solve. Through self-monitoring the child directs the movement of the cane to satisfy curiosity and understand the requirements of safe and effective travel. Driven by cognitive interests, the cane is a tool to learn about the environment. Its use facilitates the formation of basic concepts about the environment and prepares the child for learning more advanced O&M concepts and skills.
• Puts the Blind Child at an Advantage When Traveling: The use of the cane has so many functions that it places the child at a real advantage in learning about the world and in moving and traveling in it. Through everyday experiences with the cane, blind children learn through their own orientation and mobility to view themselves as independent travelers. To not get an early start on cane travel for the blind child is to place the child at a disadvantage and all of the aforementioned “functions of the cane” are not a possibility; instead limitations will be developed by the passive movement that following someone’s lead engenders. The child’s cognitive development, free¬dom of movement, and confidence to travel indepen¬dently is also at risk of not developing. Make sure the blind child in your care is given all the advantages.
by Doris Willoughby and Sharon Monthei
Reprinted from Modular Instruction for Independent Travel for Students Who are Blind or Visually Impaired: Preschool through High School, by Doris Willoughby and Sharon Monthei, National Federation of the Blind.
Everyone in the child’s environment is his/her teacher. A child learns daily living skills from parents and siblings, social conventions from neighbors and relatives, academic and other skills from various schoolteachers, and games and activities from young friends. Orientation and mobility is part of this large picture.
If a child does not develop increasing independence--including the use of a cane at an early age--he or she will expect continual assistance from others in getting around. If parents and school staff see that the child does begin cane usage early, then he or she will develop increasing independence appropriate for each chronological age.
Modular Instruction assumes that at least one person in the child’s life (probably a teacher or parent) has made serious study of how the cane is used, and takes the lead in guiding others to facilitate learning. There are many ways to gain this knowledge; the National Federation of the Blind will be pleased to help you find a source.
When this book uses the term “teacher” or “instructor,” it means whatever adult
is working with the student in the activity.
The foundation of all learning occurs in infancy and very early childhood. The general development of infants and toddlers is beyond the scope of this book. However, many Modules contain suggestions which apply to toddlers and even infants.
Children walk with their parents to the neighbor’s house; to cross the street; to go from the car to the drugstore. They go with the family to the grocery store; the doctor’s office; the mall; the zoo. The Modules in this book give specific ideas for making each excursion an age-appropriate learning experience.
When an educator takes the lead in instruction, parents nevertheless continue to guide skill development outside of classes. Parents also monitor the instruction itself to assure that it is appropriate. And some parents, facing a lack of educators with appropriate knowledge, take the lead for instruction themselves.
Other family members--aunts and uncles, grandparents, siblings, and other relatives--share the responsibility. Often someone other than the parents (even a fairly young child) happens to have the best opportunity to teach a particular thing.
In a residential school, the houseparent is much like a part-time parent. Development
of skill in travel is a part of this responsibility.
Specialized teachers of blind students typically take the lead in cane travel instruction. The lead instructor should outline a curriculum to develop skills in an organized manner. He/she should ensure that the child learns what is currently needed (as by emphasizing street-crossing immediately for a city child.) At the same time, he/she should make sure no major age-appropriate skill is completely omitted. (For example, a rural high school student should visit a larger town and work with traffic lights.)
The specialized instructor must not exist in an “ivory tower” in solitary splendor. Continual consultation with parents and with other teachers is essential. Specific practical suggestions, with demonstrations as needed, enable other adults to guide the child in integrated, consistent progress.
At times, the specialized instructor may play additional roles by default. If the parents, despite much consultation, never take the child along to a store, the instructor should spend extra time with this. If the sixth grade teacher has promised to show the blind student the way to the rest room, but somehow this is not happening, the travel teacher may need to assist.
Similarly, there are many places around the school where the class may not go as a group, but which sighted students will understand through sight. The flagpole and the kitchen are two good examples. Sighted students see the flags flying and occasionally watch the custodian run them up and down. They see the kitchen when they walk by in the lunch line. But the blind six-year-old may not know what a flag and its pulleys are actually like (he cannot reach the flag in the classroom either). He hears the clatter of the kitchen, but may not really understand what is there. When the travel teacher’s lesson focuses on a single interesting location, it provides great interest and variety (vital for the young child) as well as filling in gaps in concepts.
Gaps in knowledge can occur at home also. The travel teacher may conduct many
lessons near the home of a preschooler who is just learning to get around in
a large yard and the nearby neighborhood. The teacher may help an older student
walk between home and school, between home and the bus stop, between home and
a nearby convenience store, etc.
Classroom Teachers and Activity Leaders
Many different teachers carry out activities which relate to these Modules. Day care providers, as well as school and preschool classroom teachers, are included. Leaders of Scout troops, religious groups, and other activities will also find this book relevant.
Routinely, preschool and elementary school groups tour the dentist’s office, the zoo, the grocery store, the City Hall, etc. Leaders will find these Modules helpful in making each excursion an age-appropriate learning experience.
When the specialized teacher introduces a skill, others must encourage and remind the child to keep it up. They must see that opportunities exist to put the skill into practice.
Reprinted from Modular Instruction for Independent Travel for Students Who are Blind or Visually Impaired: Preschool through High School, by Doris Willoughby and Sharon Monthei, National Federation of the Blind.
The Length of the Cane:
There is some debate about the appropriate length of the cane. Blind people have found through experience that the length of the cane is an individual matter, depending upon the length of stride, walking speed, and reflexes of the student. To consider the length of the cane, hold it vertically in front of the individual: ordinarily it should reach somewhere between the armpit and the nose. Shoulder height is a good length for a first cane. A cane reaching only to the sternum (breastbone) is not long enough for the average student to assume a normal walking speed with safety. The cane must be long enough to allow a student two steps to stop.
Generally speaking, a traveler will want a longer cane as speed is developed, and this should be left up to the student who is an experienced traveler. The desire for a longer cane should be viewed as a positive sign.
One way to check whether a cane is the right length is to observe where the foot steps in relationship to the cane touch which would cover it (i.e., the place where the cane last touched on that side). If the foot touches approximately the same place the cane did, the cane is the right length. If the foot touches in front of where the cane touched, the cane is too short. If the foot touches significantly behind where the cane touched, the cane is too long. (Or, occasionally, the stride may be found to be much too short.)
The cane also must reach two steps ahead on stairs. Although shoulder height is a good length for an adult’s first cane, this tends to be too short for a young child. For children, generally the cane should reach as high as the nose when held vertically.
Since children grow, it is necessary to change cane lengths periodically. Some
National Federation of the Blind state affiliates have cane banks for kids,
so that canes in children’s sizes are available on loan and can be traded in
when necessary. Since it would not be unusual for a child to change canes ten
or more times from early childhood through adolescence, this is a considerable
Which Cane to Use:
The best cane currently on the market is called the “NFB straight cane.” It is hollow fiberglass with a rubber and metal tip and plastic cylindrical handle. This cane is the most sensitive because it is light and flexible, is made in one piece, and has a metal tip which provides information both through touch and sound. It is also weighs only a few ounces so that small hands do not become tired using it. Because of its construction, it can be used with either hand or switched from hand to hand when convenient. It is available in children’s sizes (with handle and shank properly proportioned for small hands) from the National Federation of the Blind at the National Center for the Blind.
In my opinion, the next best cane on the market is sometimes called a Rainshine™ cane after the company which manufactures it, and also sometimes called the Iowa cane. It is solid fiberglass and is otherwise much like the NFB straight cane. It is not quite as sensitive or as light as the NFB straight cane. Some people prefer this cane because it is virtually indestructible.
Many other straight canes are rigid, have nylon tips which do not slide easily, and provide little information about substances touched. They wear in such a way as to make the cane either left- or right-handed. (This problem is partly due to the “golf grip” handle often used.)
Collapsible canes have one main disadvantage--they do collapse. They are not very sturdy because they are held together either by nylon cord or by telescoping joints. The movement of the cane shakes the pieces apart. Because they are not one solid piece, they do not telegraph information as accurately. Many blind people buy them so that they can collapse them when they don’t want people to know they are blind. Use of a collapsible cane encourages avoidance of facing the real issues of blindness.
If a collapsible cane is used at all, the best use is as an extra to be kept in reserve. For example, it might be kept in the desk at work in case something happens to the regular cane.
The answer to this question very much depends upon whether we are talking about very young children anywhere from birth to age four, or six, or even older; or whether we are talking about the child that has the maturity, cognitive development, and/or motor skills to begin instruction in the standard O&M or adult-level techniques. To address this question we turn once again to Doris Willoughby and Sharon Monthei for older children and adults, and to address the very young child we again refer to Joe Cutter:
Reprinted from Module 1 of Modular Instruction for Independent Travel for Students Who are Blind or Visually Impaired: Preschool through High School, by Doris Willoughby and Sharon Monthei, 1998 National Federation of the Blind.
The Touch Technique:
See Also (Other Modules):
Introducing the Cane
Posture, Gait, and Arc (Level Surface)
Obstacles (Noting Them and Proceeding)
In a Crowd (Including Stairway Techniques)
This basic technique is sometimes called arcing the cane, or the foot cane technique. It is used in most situations. It is achieved by holding the cane in the dominant hand with the index finger pointing down the shaft, and the thumb and other fingers curled around the cane--a position analogous to shaking hands with the cane. The cane is swung from side to side and should cover the ground approximately the width of the traveler’s shoulder. When the right foot is forward, the cane should touch on the left side, and when the left foot is forward, the cane should touch on the right side--one tap per step. The hand should be centered in front of the body with the primary action in the wrist. (Keeping the forearm against the waist or hip helps to center the hand and prevent fatigue.) The elbow may be bent comfortably.
The reason the cane should touch on the opposite side from the forward foot is to maintain a two-step warning for objects and steps encountered. A traveler who is out of step is clearing only one step ahead and may miss some objects altogether until they are encountered with the body.
The arc of the cane should be even on either side. If a traveler tends to drift either left or right, observe that the traveler is probably arcing farther in that direction than on the other side. Also, if the hand does not remain centered, a variation in the arc may occur, and the traveler will have more difficulty developing good distance perception with the cane. Distance perception can also be thrown off by changing the length of cane.
In crowded areas the cane can be moved into a more upright position, causing some variation in grip and slowing of walking speed. Normally, a cane traveler should be able to walk as fast as a sighted person in similar physical condition.
by Joe Cutter
Reprinted with permission from Joseph Cutter, Independent Movement and Travel in Blind Children: A Promotion Model. A Volume in Critical Concerns in Blindness (IAP--Information Age Publishing, Inc., 2007), 172-174.
Using the Teaching Cane: The first introduction to the cane may be with the use of the parent’s teaching cane. First, while holding the child in one arm and the cane in the other, the child can explore touch interactions with the cane, eventually moving it with the parent and then initiating movements. When the child is able to walk, the child can hold onto the shaft of the parent’s teaching cane. While holding onto the shaft of the parent’s teaching cane, the child will be in front of the parent. In this way the parent can guide the movement of the cane by standing behind the child. The child will also initiate movements with the teaching cane. Together the parent and child will explore possibilities with the teaching cane.
Hold Cane for Cane Walking: The cane is held in travel grip position that is developmentally appropriate for the child. The child may hold the cane like a shepherd’s staff or a golf putter, which means with the thumb on top or pointed down, respectively. The child may want to hold the cane halfway down the shaft for better balance and control or at the very end of the grip, feeling the end of the cane in the palm of the hand. Often the very young blind child wants to hold the cane with two hands. Interestingly, this brings the cane to midline (stomach) area. This bottom-up, two-handed approach created by the child offers an alternate approach to beginning cane travel that I often suggest to children who are holding the cane to one side and are not “covering” fully to protect the front of their body.
There are many variations for holding the cane and there are many reasons for it. Sometimes the reason is easy to understand and sometimes it is a mystery. What is important to remember is that the child is doing it for a reason and it is best to respect the child’s decision, as long as it is safe for the child.
Walking with Someone: Initially, the baby, toddler, or child will hold onto the parent with one hand and the cane with the other. Introduction of the cane should not mean “loss” of the parent or adult’s hand but rather an addition to what is familiar to the child--the adult’s hand. This consideration is of particular importance to the developmentally delayed blind child who may have experienced walking with the parent for a much longer period of time than the typical blind child.
Gradually, with the stability that comes with balance and confidence in movement, the child then moves away from the parent contact and ventures out more independently. When cane travel is delayed in blind children, they become accustomed to holding on to the parent’s hand, usually for a longer period of time than is age/stage appropriate.
As children gain experience with the cane, they will hold the cane directly out in front of the body. At this time children will begin to explore sliding and tapping the cane. Children may be holding onto the parent’s teaching cane, their own cane, or both, in making such experimenting movements with the cane. With the cane in hand, the child will be alongside the parents first and then, over time, move in front of the parent.
Standing Position: When children are standing still, teach them to hold the cane upright. Children need to understand and learn that the cane can get in someone else’s way when unnecessarily put out in front when standing alone or standing and talking to someone. It is best placed in a vertical, upright position. While standing still and holding the cane, the child may inadvertently, unexpectedly or purposefully slide the cane out in front or exhibit some other “play” behavior and can surprise passers by and this may cause the person to trip over the cane. We want to limit the perception of the cane as a dangerous tool. This begins with teaching the child proper handling of the cane.
Cane Down on the Ground: The cane is a travel tool that must be oriented down to contact and survey the ground. Blind babies enjoy banging the cane and lifting the cane high in the air to explore as they get connected to the cane and to the object world. This is understandable. The blind child will gradually lower the cane to the ground. At first the child does not understand that a simple movement in the wrist can elevate the cane so high. Have the child observe your wrist and hand movement with your teaching cane. Playing games with the child to locate objects above and on the ground can give experience with the “wrist feeling” of orienting the cane down. The top-down approach of simply saying, “keep the cane on the ground” will not register with the young traveler as quickly as older children or when adults are beginning to learn how to use the cane.
Remember, for the child “out of the experience comes the concept.” The concept is not already in the child’s head at such a young age. Sometimes we can add a bit of weight to the cane to assist the child who is having difficulty understanding or perceiving the wrist movement. This is usually the baby or the child who is functioning on the level under three years of age. The goal is to orient the cane down to the ground while not compromising hand functioning. The child must be able to easily move the cane.
Side to Side and Slide it Wide: In this technique, also known as “constant contact,” the cane is in contact with the ground or floor. This creates a more thorough coverage of the terrain ahead of the child so that uneven surfaces and drop-offs are less likely to surprise the young traveler. The blind child likes the rhyming of this phrase “side-to-side and slide it wide” and this facilitates sustaining the task of sliding the cane.
Make up games to provide practice with this skill. For example, place milk cartons or plastic bowling pins at random on the floor and let the child knock them all down. If the child is working with physical or occupational therapists, they will have many creative suggestions on how to play with the cane in their respective therapies. The very young blind child will not be able to learn in-step rhythm with the cane until an older age. Therefore, the sliding technique is an important skill that will be used prior to learning the more efficient and advanced cane skills.
Parents can take, or avoid, a number of different actions that will promote good cane habits and independent mobility. Of course, like anything else that has been reduced to a bulleted list, the actual implementation of these simple tips into a busy and often chaotic lifestyle is another challenge altogether. Not to mention that children have their own personalities and agendas, and those often clash with what we parents know is best for them. That’s when personal stories from other parents who have been there, done that (such as those in this issue) can provide the inspiration and encouragement we need. We hope you will read them, too. Finally, we preface our list of do’s and don’ts, with a short lesson from Willoughby and Monthei called, “Aha!” not “Oops!”
Reprinted from Modular Instruction for Independent Travel for Students Who are Blind or Visually Impaired: Preschool through High School, by Doris Willoughby and Sharon Monthei, National Federation of the Blind.
Jenny, age six, was learning to find her way in the school hallways. Whenever her cane touched a box or other object, her teacher said “Oops.” Jenny walked slowly.
Ian carried his cane in a gingerly manner. It seemed as though he were carrying a tray of dishes instead of a cane--trying not to bump it into anything.
Jenny and Ian were victims of a common error often made by educators and family members: unconsciously viewing the cane’s touch as a “collision” (not really desirable) rather than a “discovery” (desirable). This rubs off on the student, who unconsciously learns to proceed slowly and gingerly, and fails to take real advantage of the potential of the cane.
This Module emphasizes attitudes and techniques which help ensure the use of the cane as a tool. Cane usage is an alternative technique with its own characteristics--not just a weak attempt to imitate the methods used by the sighted. The goal is not to proceed with as little sound as possible, touching as few things as possible. Rather, the goal is to proceed quickly and efficiently. Some sound is expected and desirable, as the cane tip touches objects and the surface underfoot. Proceeding confidently--as opposed to a timid, even cringing approach--is part of the overall attitude that it is respectable to be blind.
When Jenny and Ian became Mrs. Vrbek’s students, she quickly helped them change patterns of attitudes and techniques. With Jenny, she began by saying “Aha!” in a pleased voice each time she observed Jenny’s cane finding an obstacle. Jenny soon picked this up and began saying “aha” also, instead of the “oops” she had acquired from her previous teacher. Soon she was bouncing down the hall at twice her previous speed, from time to time murmuring “aha” as she went around something.
Mrs. Vrbek asked Ian (age nine) to put on sleepshades, and she went with him to the playground. She faced him toward a chain-link fence and asked him to walk forward quickly. After a few steps, the cane tip encountered the fence and Ian stopped short. Mrs. Vrbek could “see the wheels going around in his head” as he internalized the idea he should have grasped long ago: “Now I really understand what the cane can do! It can find things before I get to them, when I can’t see them, or when I can’t see them well enough to tell what they are.”
“Now he realized,” Mrs. Vrbek said afterward, “that the cane is supposed to touch things, to give him information.”
What can parents do, or avoid doing, to encourage their child’s independent travel with a long white cane? Here are some suggestions that should help.
1) DO learn the basic techniques so you can encourage and praise your child for his efforts. Constant nagging about technique can be harmful, but generous praise and encouragement can help.
2) DO insist that your child take her cane everywhere and that she use it. Going to the store? Take the cane. Going to swim lessons? Take the cane. Out to eat? Take the cane. Taking the cane should become as natural and as comfortable as putting on glasses, carrying a purse or wallet, or putting on a coat in winter.
3) DO NOT anticipate for your son what the cane will tell him in just a few moments anyway. If you are constantly telling your child to watch out for the steps, or the telephone pole, or whatever, then he will never learn to trust the cane (and neither will you). Sometimes, of course, a gentle reminder, “What is your cane telling you?” or, “How should you be holding the cane?” is in order. Of course it is only common courtesy to advise your child of an overhanging branch or other obstacle that the cane or other senses will not detect. Use your judgment, but remember a minor bump or bruise once in while because of neglecting to pay attention to the cane or to use it properly is a real-life lesson that is far more effective than constant nagging.
4) DO NOT teach your child to count steps. The proper use of the long white cane will allow your child to know when she has reached the top or the bottom of the steps or when she has arrived at a particular store, house, etc. Excessive use of counting steps can be a bad habit that interferes with the ability to concentrate on the sounds, smells, and landmarks that are much more valuable clues.
5) DO NOT allow yourself or your child to be embarrassed about using the cane in public places, or anyplace at all. It is respectable to be blind, and the long white cane is a symbol of the independence and normality of the blind. If you and your child will learn to feel and act that way, then more and more the public will take their cues from you and begin to treat the blind with respect and courtesy instead of pity and excessive helpfulness.
6) DO help your child to learn how to properly store the cane when it is not in use. In automobiles the cane can be placed in first or pulled in afterward. Even in the smallest compact car, with practice the cane can be easily placed between or along the seat and the door or side of the vehicle. When this isn’t possible, then your child can rest the cane over the shoulder at an angle. In a restaurant, the classroom, a theater, or other public places, the cane can be slid under a table, desk, or chair as long as it does not stick out into an aisle where someone could trip on it. It can also be leaned in a corner or against a wall with ease. If none of these are possible, you child can simply bring it in close to his side and rest it against his shoulder. It can be kept easily and comfortably there with little inconvenience.
7) DO expect your child to take on ordinary age-appropriate tasks while using her cane. For example, she should learn to find and open doors for herself and others; help you carry in the groceries; walk (or run) ahead of you as you walk down the street; determine when to cross the street instead of waiting for you to give the go-ahead; buy milk and bread from the local convenience store while you wait in the car; take a bus or a taxi with friends or by herself to go shopping at the mall or to a school event; and any number of other tasks performed by her sighted peers. Learning to carry a cane in one hand and carry or perform other tasks with the other hand (or both), is a valuable life-long skill.
8) DO encourage the use of sleepshade (blindfold) training for your partially sighted child. Learning to travel under blindfold has a number of advantages. First of all, it is faster and easier to learn the techniques and to trust them if you are not trying to rely on residual vision. Secondly, it builds confidence to know you can travel efficiently and safely without any vision at all. Finally, once your youngster has mastered nonvisual techniques, he can use his vision combined with his new techniques to travel confidently, safely, and efficiently under conditions that he may have been afraid to travel when he only had his limited vision to rely on. Caution: A small amount of training under blindfold with an instructor that is not comfortable doing it, or is outright antagonistic to the idea, can increase not decrease fears and insecurities about travel. In this instance, consider summer training programs that will provide consistent training over a block of time with instructors that have experience and positive attitudes.
9) DO NOT allow your child’s training to get “bogged down” because he cannot (or will not) execute a particular skill perfectly. One mother, who had consented to precane technique instruction for her seven-year-old on the understanding that it would be brief and cane instruction would begin soon, became concerned when week after week passed and no progress was made. She called the teacher, who insisted she couldn’t move on until the child demonstrated his knowledge of a particular skill and concept. The mother sat her son down to talk to him about it, and discovered that he was so bored with the whole thing that he was deliberately doing things wrong to “spice up” his classes. Needless to say, the mother got that straightened out fast, and he had a cane within a week.
10) DO use sighted guide (human guide) techniques sparingly and with careful consideration. Yes, it might be faster--for now--but how will it affect your child’s progress over time? It is also faster for you to tie her shoes, pick up her toys, make her bed, dress her, and do her dishes, but at some point you must stop and carve time out of the day to let her learn to do these tasks for herself. The same is true for cane use. If your child is to develop skill and confidence in traveling in all kinds of situations she needs practice and she can’t get this by hanging on to an arm. When your child does use a human guide, insist that your child carry her cane and use it in the usual manner or with modified grip. This puts your child “in-control” even when using a human guide.
Reprinted from Module 54 of Modular Instruction for Independent Travel for Students Who are Blind or Visually Impaired: Preschool through High School, by Doris Willoughby and Sharon Monthei, 1998 National Federation of the Blind.
Introduction: One of the most basic outside travel experiences in modern America consists of crossing at street lights. It is a fundamental necessity for citizens from all walks of life. Readers should note two things about the Willoughby and Monthei’s article on street crossings: first, the process should begin when the child is in preschool or kindergarten, and second, by elementary school the child should have mastered the technique and the process as a whole. The expectation is that blind children will be crossing streets with lights at the same time and with the same level of safety as other children. The Modular Instruction book maintains these high levels of expectations, accompanied by a thorough and practical approach, throughout its 398 pages. In the article by Pat Renfranz in this issue, the mother questioned whether there was anything out there to provide instructional guidance for the transition period between Joe Cutter’s early years approach to adult-level instruction. Well, this publication is it. Willoughby and Monthei have an answer, and they get it right.
OBJECTIVE: (Preschool and kindergarten) The student will indicate the direction in which a nearby car is going, and begin to tell whether a light is red or green.
OBJECTIVE: (Elementary grades) The student will cross an uncomplicated intersection having red/green lights and moderate traffic.
AGE OF STUDENT: Preschool: readiness and limited independence.
Elementary school and up: increasing independence as appropriate for age.
PRIMARY SKILL EMPHASIS:
Sound direction and meaning
Parallel and perpendicular
Right and left
Corners, turns, and angles
Moving straight ahead
Correcting a path
ADDITIONAL SKILL EMPHASIS:
Communication and instructions
SEE ALSO (Other Modules):
Around the Block
Street Crossing With Little Traffic
Street Crossing-Developing Flexibility and Competence
Complicated Street Crossings
Street Crossing With Obstruction
FIGURE 54-1: Crossing Fourth Street
CAUTION: Although a competent blind traveler is no less safe than a competent sighted traveler, everyone should exercise appropriate caution in traffic.
Assist young children and beginners as necessary for safety, with independence increasing as skills grow.
REMARKS: Talk with parents and other teachers about how much independence will be allowed outside of the lesson.
After school hours it is the parents, not you, who have authority to permit a youngster to cross a given street. Invite them to watch a lesson or demonstration, as preparation for their granting added privileges.
EXAMPLE 1: READINESS
The youngest student can begin to listen to traffic and use her cane, even if an adult always holds her hand when in or near a street. The parent or teacher should talk with the child, explaining what is happening and gradually helping her to interpret traffic independently.
Sometimes, explain in full detail: “OK, now we are waiting to cross. We can't go, because cars are going back and forth in front of us.” [Take the child's hand--the hand that is not holding the cane--and move her hand back and forth from side to side to imitate the motion of the perpendicular traffic.] “Our light is red now....
“Listen--they are stopping.... Now we hear the cars beside us going.” [Move her hand again, forward and backward to indicate motion of parallel traffic.] “Here we go; our light is green....”
Note: Wait until parallel traffic actually moves--an instant after the light turns green.
The child can then hear the change of directionality, understand what is going on, and start walking with the timing she will use when crossing alone.
Later, start asking the child herself to state when to cross. Just as very young sighted children do, she can call out “Green, go!” long before she is old enough to be allowed to cross alone.
(Note: A common misunderstanding occurs when parents think the child is “late” in recognizing the green light, when actually she is correctly noting when the traffic actually moves. When teaching a young child to understand what she hears, the adult should also call it “green” only when the traffic actually starts: an instant after the light itself changes. Otherwise the child and the helper will never quite agree, and the child will be confused.)
Provide prompting: “OK, now we are at the corner. Is our light red or green?... Yes, it is red, because the cars are going back and forth in front of us....
“Keep listening....Yes, now it's green. Here we go. Listen to the cars going along beside us....”
EXAMPLE 2: VOCABULARY
(Preschool and elementary grades)
Children of preschool age may not know the word “traffic.” It is best to say “cars” at first. Later, if desired, teach the term “traffic.”
Similarly, younger children will not know the terms “parallel” and “perpendicular.” (The youngest ones cannot even pronounce them!)
At first, speak of “cars going across in front of us” and “cars beside us.” Supplement with physical demonstration, as with the hand motion described above.
Preschoolers may even be unclear about the meaning of “beside.”
Practice with toys and stuffed animals may be helpful. Also note examples of role-playing, below.
EXAMPLE 3: DIRECTIONAL CONCEPTS
As with vocabulary in general, consider the child's age in relation to directional concepts.
A preschool child is still learning about right and left, and may have no idea of compass directions. She does not have the maturity to learn these in their entirety at the present time. This does not mean that she cannot start to cross streets. But it does mean that vocabulary must be simplified, and independence will be only partial at first.
The Example in this Module on “Pacing Instruction” gives steps for gradually increasing independence. The teacher can use more and more sophisticated language as time goes on and the student can do the same.
See the Modules “Right and Left” and “Compass Directions” for detailed suggestions for activities, many of which relate directly to street crossings.
EXAMPLE 4: LISTENING
Tell the student to listen closely and line up as straight as she can by listening to the parallel traffic flow. If she is wrong, correct her before she starts to cross. Then ask her to listen again to determine the parallel and perpendicular traffic. (When facing the wrong direction, the student may verbalize, “The traffic is running at an angle,” without realizing she is the one who is crooked.)
If a beginner has trouble comprehending traffic movements at the intersection, move to the middle of the block and listen. A half block from a light, there will be notable stops and starts in the flow of traffic. With some practice in noting this change (in two directions instead of four), the student can more easily grasp the various directions found at the intersection.
EXAMPLE 5: BASIC CROSSING
Standing at the edge of the street, the student listens carefully. If she hears the traffic moving across in front of her, she knows her own light is red. If she hears traffic moving parallel to the path she plans to take, she has the green light. However, if she arrives in the middle of a green light, she should wait through a cycle until the light turns green again. (See Example below, “Stale Green.”)
Figure 54-1, the student stands on the northwest corner of the intersection. She plans to cross Fourth Street, which runs north and south. When she hears the traffic on Fourth slow and stop, and the cars on Elm start to move east and west, the student begins to cross.
She should move briskly and assertively. If she is very hesitant, drivers may genuinely doubt that she is really going to cross.
To cross correctly, the student listens carefully to determine direction, proceeds parallel to the traffic which is moving beside her, and continues to listen to the vehicles (including idling motors of stopped cars on Fourth) at all times. She walks as fast as possible, because she will get across faster and walk in a straighter path.
(Listening to the footsteps of other pedestrians is not a reliable guide. Many people cross at odd angles or against the light.)
Upon reaching the opposite curb, it is important to sweep the area with the cane to check for obstacles such as utility poles. At the same time, however, note that it is dangerous to remain in the street. Any exploring on the other side, such as looking for the sidewalk, should be done after stepping out of the street.
EXAMPLE 6: DIFFERENCES FROM SIGHTED TECHNIQUES
Explain to students and others that a blind pedestrian will not always cross in exactly the same way as a sighted person, and that this is all right. For example, people may worry if the blind traveler is not exactly on the marked crosswalk. Actually, as long as she is crossing in essentially the right area, it is not necessary that she walk precisely on the painted lines. However, by listening to where the idling cars are, the student can have a good understanding of the location of the crosswalk.
Similarly, the blind person's crossing may not precisely coincide with the timing of the “walk” light (if present), and this too is all right. The cane gives her the right to cross at a reasonable time. However, she must realize that she cannot count on immunity from danger solely because she is using a cane; it is necessary to pay attention to traffic and proceed carefully.
If there is so little traffic that she cannot determine whether the lights are red or green, she should simply cross as though there were no controls. Otherwise she might stand there forever.
EXAMPLE 7: PHYSICAL STRUCTURE AND ARRANGEMENT
Do not assume that a student--even one with considerable useful sight--understands all about the physical structure of an intersection. A tactual map or model is very helpful. Examine the map. Walk through the actual intersection and analyze various aspects. Ask questions to probe the student's understanding. Encourage the student to ask questions, making it clear that you will not belittle any question.
Does she understand where the crosswalk is in relation to the corner, and that lines are painted on the street? Explain that she need not be exactly on the lines, but should be in the right general area.
Does she understand about traffic lanes, again with lines painted on the street?
We speak of “the traffic light” at a particular corner. In fact, however, there are lights facing four different directions. Moreover, at a busy corner there are usually several complete fixtures, all operating together. Explain this, and examine things physically when possible.
Kindergarten classes often have model traffic signals which are low and accessible.
Examine the control box; discuss normal operation and possible malfunction. Note the clicking sound which can often be heard. The student should understand what this is, and realize that sometimes it can be an added clue to the changing lights. Emphasize, however, that this is only supplementary. It varies with different systems, may be heard on only one of the corners, and cannot be heard over loud ambient noise. Traffic, as always, is what the student should mainly attend to. (One instructor said, “Listen to the traffic--not the stoplight. No one ever got run over by a stoplight.”)
EXAMPLE 8: PARALLEL AND PERPENDICULAR
Age Eight and Below
Most younger students (and some who are older) need considerable explanation and demonstration of parallel and perpendicular traffic.
Explain: “The cross traffic goes across in front of you--back and forth, like this.... Perpendicular is another name for the cross traffic. When that traffic is moving, it has the green light; therefore, your light is red and you do not move.
“The parallel traffic moves beside you, like this.... When it moves, you and the traffic both have the same green light, so you can move.”
Listen to actual traffic. Examine tactual maps. Move model “traffic” around (using toy cars or other small objects, or simply tracing paths with the fingers.)
With a first grader we recently did some role playing:
“Kari will pretend to be the cars going north and south on Fourth Street. Jim will be the cars going east and west on Elm. You [Gunar, the beginning student] will be the light; I'll stand with you and help you know what to do.
“OK, now, your head is the traffic light... Yes, that's quite a silly idea, isn't it? Yes, pretty funny.
“Your face is the green light facing north, and we also pretend you have a green light on the back of your head facing south. So when you're facing north, like now, the lights are green for Kari.
“Go ahead, Kari. Show us the cars going north and south.... [Kari “drives” back and forth, north and south, making suitable traffic noises]
“OK, Traffic Light, now you are changing colors. Your lights are yellow, and you are going to be facing the other way. [Kari screeches to a stop.]...
“The green lights are east and west now, for Elm Street.” [Jim “drives” back and forth, with suitable sound effects]....
This kind of demonstration is fun and very graphic. As necessary or desired, the person playing the light can operate with much or little help; roles can be exchanged; etc.
Over Age Eight
Older students may benefit from a brief, age-appropriate version of role-playing. For example, I asked an eleven-year-old to face north while I walked back and forth saying, “I'm the north-south traffic.” Then she faced west while I walked back and forth saying, “I'm the east-west traffic.”
EXAMPLE 9: WALKING STRAIGHT ACROSS
Detailed suggestions for walking straight across appear in the Module, “Street Crossing with Little Traffic.”
The traveler must avoid two opposite errors--veering too close to the parallel traffic (i.e., walking in the parallel street instead of beside it) or too far away from it (i.e., wandering along in the cross street).
The presence of traffic actually makes it easier to cross straight. However, a student accustomed to quiet streets needs to learn to include additional information. She must pay close attention both to moving cars and to idling motors, so as to walk in the clear path between the parallel traffic and the stopped traffic.
EXAMPLE 10: CAR IN CROSSWALK
Provide experience with a car stopped in the crosswalk. Help the student to recognize this and to be careful without being frightened. If at all possible, it is much better to go around the front of the car, to maximize being seen by the driver. But if crossing in front would put the traveler into a busy stream of parallel traffic, it may be necessary to go behind.
The Module, “Street Crossing With Obstruction,” has more detail on this subject.
EXAMPLE 11: “STALE GREEN”
After some experience, a traveler may walk toward an intersection and realize (before stopping) that the light is green. Discuss whether it is wise to simply continue without stopping.
My instructor called this a “stale green,” and said that it was worse than stale bread. If the traveler starts to cross after the light has been green awhile, it will probably change to red long before she reaches the opposite curb. Therefore, tell your student to stop until the light turns red and then green again. Then she can step out just after the traffic first begins to move, on a light that is not “stale.”
A short-timed light may still change to yellow before she finishes crossing, but she should be able to cross basically within the intended time.
A good rule is, “If you aren't sure about when to go, then don't go.” There is no fire. There is no danger in waiting. Also, many beginners need extra time to line up straight by listening to the traffic patterns. The most important things to do before crossing are to listen carefully and line up straight.
An exception: An experienced traveler, approaching a familiar intersection and hearing the change to green as she approaches, may indeed correctly gauge whether enough time is left. But usually the rule, especially for beginners, should be “Never cross on a stale green light.”
Position While Waiting: When the traveler is standing and listening at length, she should pull the cane up vertically to indicate she is not cross¬ing. When she is ready to cross, however, she must not suddenly step out without warning. When the traveler is expecting to cross soon, the cane should be at the normal angle well before she starts to move, as a signal to motorists.
EXAMPLE 12: SCHOOL PATROL
Elementary schools often have a “School Patrol.” At busy crossings near the school, an older student (or an adult) stands at each curb, directing the children when to cross. (Typically, the guard holds his arms out to the side when the light is red. When the light is green, he steps aside, or may walk part way across with the children.)
Discuss the Patrol with your young student, possibly demonstrating with role playing.
You may decide to talk with Patrol members about the blind child's ability. Urge them to say something aloud when they release students to cross. Explain that the student can cross with as much independence as others.
EXAMPLE 13: AROUND ALL FOUR WAYS
Have the student go all the way around an intersection. Ask what color the light is at each point; insist that the student only cross at the beginning of a green light.
Ask her to describe the traffic pattern, including where cars are coming from and whether they turned or went straight. Emphasize compass directions, as, “That car was going north on Fourth and turned east on Elm.”
Go around at least once clockwise, and at least once counterclockwise.
EXAMPLE 14: TURNING TRAFFIC
The student must understand that a turning car does not safely indicate when and where she should cross.
Help beginners recognize whether a car is turning or proceeding straight ahead. Stand at the corner (with cane pulled up vertically, to indicate that one is not crossing) and listen through several cycles. Discuss the direction of various vehicles. Help the student move her hand to indicate motion, including turning--this is particularly graphic and helps you know how well she understands.
Such practice helps to prevent the beginner's fol¬lowing a car's path around a corner, instead of proceeding in the straight path desired.
When to step out:
When the traveler hears the parallel traffic beside her start up, she should not actually step out until the first car has gone far enough to make it clear that it is going straight. Otherwise, the vehicle might be making “right turn on red,” in which case pedestrians do not have a green light either.
She should step out when the majority of traffic moves, or the straight traffic, rather than when she hears a single car start up. She must listen to all of the traffic, not just a single car which may be about to turn.
Emphasize that the movements of other pedestrians are not a reliable guide.
EXAMPLE 15: PACING OF INSTRUCTION
Pacing is an important responsibility of the teacher.
One student may be thrilled at emerging independence and eager to cross many times during the first lesson. Another may be very fearful and reluctant. Most are somewhere in between.
Observe the student to see what she does when things do not go right; watch for signs of fear or poor judgment. Provide coaching and physical assistance as needed.
Younger students, especially, often cannot grasp all aspects at once. But this is no excuse for putting off instruction altogether. Instead, provide help with one or more aspects while expecting the student to handle others. Following is a good sequence for gradually increasing independence.
This sequence may be completed in a lesson or two for a mature student. A preschool student will probably not achieve full independence at that age; but proceeding part way through the sequence provides a basis for fast progress later.
The Module, “Street Crossing with Little Traffic” has many suggestions also relevant here.
Sequence for Increasing Independence
• The student takes your arm (using the human-guide technique), and walks across with you while you explain traffic movements.
• The student helps to decide when to start across. While walking across with you, the student explains traffic movements.
• The student decides when to start across, and does not take your arm. However, you walk behind with your hand on her shoulder, gently guiding her path and encouraging appropriate speed of walking.
• As in the previous stage, you walk behind the student and guide her as needed. However, you place your hand on her shoulder less and less. If there are turning vehicles or other complications which the student does not yet understand, you tell her what to do.
• You walk close to the student, but no longer provide physical guidance. You continue to explain traffic patterns she does not understand.
• The student crosses an uncomplicated lighted intersection independently. She understands turning traffic.
NOTE: At all times the teacher expects to intervene if the student (a) is placing herself in danger which she is not prepared to handle, or (b) is having difficulty which is beyond her skill or maturity.
FOLLOW-UP: Incorporate lighted crossings into ongoing practice. Do not let your student become “rusty.”
by Maria Morais, Paul Lorensen, Roland Allen, Edward C. Bell, Arlene Hill, and Eric Woods
Reprinted from the NFB publication Techniques Used by Blind Cane Travel Instructors--A Practical Approach: Learning, Teaching, Believing.
Editor’s Note: To the uninformed, the ordinary activities
listed in this title may seem terribly difficult and complicated if not impossible
for the blind student to learn to master. The following article demonstrates
the fallacy of those fears. There is nothing mysterious or necessarily complicated
about traveling in public places, but it does take good instruction, common
sense, high expectations, patience, and practice. Although the publication from
which this piece is reprinted was not written about mobility for children, the
fact that it was written by blind mobility instructors makes an important point
that parents need to know: Blind kids can aspire to go beyond personal independence
in cane travel to become mobility instructors for other blind people.
Cafeterias, fast food establishments, subway stations, hotels, or other public places provide the student with unique opportunities for exploring his environment and discovering methods to obtain and maintain his orientation. In such settings, the student will be likely to encounter crowds, loud or distorted sounds, and obstacles such as chairs, tables, and crowd control barriers in his path. He may be required to ride an escalator, carry a tray of food, or locate an elevator. At first, a student may think it impossible to travel independently in such environments or believe he can do so only with considerable sighted assistance.
Regardless of his level of travel skills, a student should know how to function effectively when going through a buffet line or eating at a fast food restaurant. These are normal, everyday experiences for most people, and the blind student should have the skills to participate in these activities along with his sighted peers without having to rely on them.
Going through a buffet or cafeteria line is just like traveling in any unfamiliar area. There are certain items a student expects to find, and certain procedures he cannot know unless he asks someone or finds another way of exploring the environment. The techniques the student uses and the instructional methods the teacher employs are common in many situations. Fast food restaurants, soft drink fountains, salad and condiment bars, even self-service areas in post offices are all places which a student must first explore and with which he must familiarize himself; the goal is for the student to use the facility without assistance.
A student may often feel awkward the first time he goes through a buffet line. If the instructor is familiar with the buffet arrangement, she can discuss the setup with the student before they go. Knowing the location of items such as trays, utensils, and napkins and understanding now food and drinks are served often alleviates some of the student’s apprehension. He may also be concerned about how he can tell when the line is moving and which methods he can employ to carry a tray while using his cane.
The instructor should usually precede the student the first time he goes through a buffet line. She can describe and demonstrate techniques she uses for locating items such as trays and napkins and show him how most knives, forks, and spoons can be distinguished based on the shapes of their handles or by their weight. She can explain how one can touch the side of a serving bowl to estimate its size, then follow around the side of the bowl to locate the serving utensil without touching its contents.
If there is another customer ahead of her in the buffet line, she may want to strike up a casual conversation, or ask about hot foods on the menu. Later, she can point out to the student that talking to another person in line is one way of telling when the line is moving. If there is no one next to her, she can demonstrate to the student how a cane can be used to explore gently a few steps ahead until contact is made with the next person in line. Because the cane is light and the movement is gentle, most people hardly notice the cane has come into contact with their shoes. After the instructor has demonstrated this technique, she usually has the student move ahead so he can try it.
Unless the menu is known in advance, neither the student nor instructor may know what is being served. This information can be obtained either from persons working in the buffet line or from other patrons being served. At a self-service buffet, sometimes it is possible to determine the type of food based upon smell, temperature, and consistency. By using the serving utensil, one can identify chicken from spaghetti. It is perfectly acceptable to use this method provided he understands such explorations are appropriate as long as he does not physically touch any food. However, a student may feel reluctant to probe a hot dish with a serving utensil and may prefer to ask a sighted person about the contents. Regardless of how he may determine food items on the menu, the student should be expected to serve himself. He should also be reminded to take note of where his favorite foods are located, so that he won't have to ask the next time if he wishes more.
It is not difficult to carry a tray loaded with food and drinks while using a cane, but a student may require practice. The instructor should first demonstrate an appropriate technique for the student, for example, carrying the tray with the less dominant hand, wrapping thumb and forefinger around the beverage to prevent spilling, while grasping the edge of the tray with the other fingers. The tray is held against the body to provide stability and may be supported from underneath with the forearm. The instructor should provide a detailed explanation of what she is doing and have the student place his hand over hers so he can observe the technique. She should emphasize the importance of using a wide arc to compensate for the width of the tray, but not extending the cane so far it gets in the way of other patrons. The student can then be instructed to utilize the same methods for carrying his tray. When an open table is located, the instructor can show how she props the cane vertically against her body, thus freeing her dominant hand to check the surface before setting down the tray. By observing the blind instructor and by practicing these techniques, the student soon discovers the act of carrying a tray while using his cane is not difficult at all.
Although the number of elevators marked with Braille is increasing, a student should know techniques to use if he cannot read Braille or if Braille is not available. The instructor can first discuss characteristics which may indicate the location of an elevator: a recess or alcove, a change in floor surface, an ashtray mounted on the wall, or a group of people who are standing in the hall, apparently waiting. Of course, she should also mention the most obvious indicators: the sounds of elevator bells or elevator doors opening and closing. The instructor can then take the student to a building which has an elevator and have him apply these techniques to locate it. She can point out the distinctive sound a cane makes when it taps against an elevator door. She should also show him how to locate the up and down buttons by lightly sliding his hand just above waist level a few inches on either side of the elevator door. If, for some reason, the student does not immediately grasp the concept of this technique, either the instructor guides his hand or instructs him to place his hand over hers. The student can then repeat the procedure on his own.
Once on the elevator, the instructor can ask the student to take them to a particular floor. If the elevator is marked in Braille and the student can read it, he simply explores the layout of the control panel and selects the desired floor. If the student cannot yet read Braille or if no Braille markers are present, the instructor can ask him to think about the alternative techniques he might use. If a sighted person is in the elevator, the student can ask for assistance in having the control panel explained to him, or he can simply have the sighted person show him the correct button. He can investigate the layout of the panel on his own and make an educated guess, especially if he knows how many floors are contained within the building. He can go up a few floors, then get off the elevator to read room numbers or ask a person in a nearby office. He may discover sounds, smells, even temperature changes on different floors which can be used as landmarks. The important point is that the student devises his own techniques for obtaining information.
In most situations, escalators can be easily identified by the sound of their motors, and by the metal plates on either end. The student should be shown the distinctive sound his cane makes when it strikes one of these plates and how he can determine the direction of the escalator by lightly placing his hand on the rail. Once he knows an escalator is moving away from him, he still must decide if it is going up or down. The instructor can demonstrate to the student how he can accomplish this by placing the tip of his cane on the first step and observing whether the cane rises or falls relative to where the student is standing.
Next, the instructor can explain to the student how to place his hand on the rail, just ahead of his body and instruct him to step onto the escalator. If he appears nervous or uncertain, the instructor may stand beside, in front, or in back of him, ready to assist him in making a smooth and safe transition on and off of the escalator. She should continue to describe how he can tell when to step off by feeling how the handrail flattens out and by keeping the tip of his cane placed a step or two ahead of him.
Again, the techniques used by a blind orientation and mobility instructor described in this section differ little from those used by a sighted one. In some instances, the blind instructor may use more physical contact since she may need to determine how the student is holding his tray or where his hand is positioned on the escalator rail by touching him. However, in the public situations mentioned in the above text, the genuine differences between a sighted and a blind instructor involve role modeling.
by Gary Wunder
Editor’s Note: The following 1992 speech was first published
in Volume 11, Number 5, of Future Reflections. It was reprinted and
has been in continuous circulation all this time; it is a classic. Here is the
original--including the editor’s note--followed by Wunder’s remarks.
From the Editor: Gary Wunder is an articulate man of greater than average sensitivity and insight into the human condition. He is also a father and husband; a member of the National Federation of the Blind National Board; president of the NFB of Missouri; and he has been blind since birth. With those characteristics and credentials, it is no surprise that Gary has often been asked to speak at our National Parents of Blind Children Seminar. At the North Carolina 1992 seminar, he was one of two presenters speaking on the topic of mobility. Priscilla Ferris, who was then president of the NFB of Massachusetts, spoke first. Since she is a dog guide user, she talked largely of the myths and misunderstandings which surround the use of the dog; but she also urged parents to get their kids white canes and cane instruction early in life. Mr. Wunder then began his presentation. Even though the agenda title of the two-member panel was “Mobility and Integration,” Mr. Wunder's speech clearly suggests another, perhaps even more appropriate, theme: “Mobility: Whose Responsibility is It?” Here is the edited speech of what Gary had to say about that question in relationship to his own childhood and current status as blind adult and father.
Well, Priscilla said most of what I had to say. Are there any questions? (laughter)
Priscilla was talking about people misunderstanding what dogs do. It strikes me that there is a theme in this which translates also to the cane user, which is: Anytime you--the blind person--are with somebody who is sighted, your mobility is necessarily the sighted person's responsibility. This poses a problem when you are, as I am, the blind parent of a sighted child. My daughter was four years old when we were out walking one day. Now, there have been times when my daughter knew that I knew everything and times when my daughter was sure I knew nothing. We were going through one of those “I don't think he knows very much” stages. Whether that happened because of something that somebody at preschool said to her about having a blind father, or because it just happens in the development of children, I don't know. So, we were out walking one day. I've always walked with a cane and I've always taken care of Missy--never had one accident whatsoever. But when we came up to the curb, she said, “Stop, Daddy, stop!”
I was surprised and I said “Missy, I know to stop.”
“How do you know?” said Missy.
“My cane falls off the curb,” I said.
“Oh, yeah. Well, don't go Daddy, don't go.”
“Missy, I'm not going to go.”
“Well, you can't see the light!”
“No, I can't see the light, but I can tell when to go by the traffic. Do you know what I mean?”
“Well, when the traffic parallel to me is going, it's safe to go. When the traffic perpendicular is going, it's not safe. Do you know what I mean?”
“No, what's perpendicular?”
So I explained to her that parallel is that traffic moving on my right and perpendicular are those cars sitting out here in front of me. We waited a while, and Missy says, “Go, Daddy, go.” I said, “Missy, the traffic in front of me is still going. It's not safe.”
She said, “I know. I just wanted to see did you know.” (laughter) (applause)
So we cross the street when the light (and the traffic) changes. And no sooner do we get across than this woman bends down and gives my daughter a hug, and she said “Oh, you do such a good job with him.” (much laughter) So, again, it's the public misperception that it's the dog--or the child--with the blind person who knows everything, and it's the blind person who is necessarily dependent in travel; and that's wrong.
I can't overemphasize the importance of independence when it comes to having a positive self-concept. Whether that independence is used to go down to the store to get a loaf of bread or whether it's to do something that seems as trivial as being able to get up and walk off in a huff when you're having an argument, the ability to be mobile is terribly important. The difficult thing for blind people is that you learn dependence at a very early age. The problem with this is that we don't grow out of it like other people. Children at a year and a half or two years old are all dependent whether they are blind or sighted. Parents hold their hand every place they go. The trouble is that at six and eight years of age, we're still doing that for many of our blind children. And while on the one hand blind children sort of resent that and wish for freedom, on the other hand they have come to think that this abnormal dependency is a pretty normal thing—for blind kids.
When I was growing up you didn't get a cane when you were six or four or three years old. The cane was a thing that my parents put off for as long as they could, and they did it with support of educators. For them the cane was, in a sense, a symbol. The cane was the thing which transformed me from being their blind son--which was okay--to somebody who might grow up to be a blind man. That wasn't okay. So, I didn't see a cane until I was about eleven years old.
When I was in elementary school I was taught that I could read and write efficiently, but my mobility was something else. I was one of the kids who formed a giant human train whenever we went anywhere. We all got into a big line, a line which was led by a sighted teacher. We all followed along. Because blind people were necessarily less mobile than everybody else, we got to go to lunch early. We were the first in the line; the first out to recess; and the first in from recess. We were always in the train.
Your blind children don't have to do that today because more and more people are accepting the fact that if you give a blind child a cane he or she can learn to get around on his or her own. I thought it was a big deal when I invented a technique that would let me walk around the block. It was called “slide one foot along the curb.” I understand now that I am not the first person who invented it, but at the time I thought about marketing it to other blind people. It seemed like a really good idea to me. It was a lot more fun than being hooked up to somebody all the time.
I remember in high school playing lots of gimmicks and tricks because I didn't have mobility skills. I remember being told that if you had to use a cane at all, you used it only when you were outside. If you used it inside, you'd trip your classmates. That would be a terrible thing to do. It was irresponsible. Besides, who wanted to look any blinder than they had to? That was the line I got. So I remember in high school figuring out how long each period was and trying to arrange it such that I would strike up a conversation with a fellow student just before the bell would ring--especially if the student with whom I struck up the conversation happened to be going to the same class as I. Now, it's fine to have interesting, stimulating conversations with fellow students, but it's not fine to believe that that's what you have to do to get from one class to the next. Again, the reason I did it was that it wasn't considered acceptable to use a cane inside. A cane was an outside thing.
I think at first I carried the cane with a certain growl; believing--like most people around me--that my mobility was really someone else's responsibility. I could hang on to somebody. The cane was only there when I couldn't force that responsibility off onto somebody else. I got lots of support for this attitude.
As I said earlier, for a long time my family resisted letting me get and use the cane. They always guided me from one place to another. It wasn't easy to change this when I got to be eleven and was finally introduced to a cane. My brothers and sisters just assumed that somebody in the family ought to have a hold on me--if not one of them, then my mother or my father was supposed to hold onto me. I think we were taught that mobility was a very complex and highly scientific thing that had to be taught by the mobility professionals. If there were no mobility professionals around, well of course you had to hang on to somebody.
What's worse is that we were taught that the only thing you could really be taught as a blind person in terms of independent travel was how to “route” travel. That is, how to go from point A to point B. If ever you were to introduce points C and D into that route, you needed to call your mobility specialist at least two or three weeks before you needed to know this “new” route. It didn't sound too exciting to me.
I learned many things about mobility when I started meeting blind people who were independent travelers. I learned some of my best mobility from a blind guy who asked me at midnight if I knew how to get from building A to building B on the college campus. I said, no I didn't, and the mobility instructor wasn't coming until next Thursday. My blind friend said that he thought he could teach me how to get there now, and so we went out and learned it. He showed me how to use things like trash cans and telephone poles as landmarks. (The mobility professionals had always taught me to avoid those things). What amazed me most, however, about this experience was that I was being taught by someone who was blind. And he--my blind friend--was teaching me that it wasn't so important to learn this slick routine to get from A to B, but that I learn general skills that would let me travel safely.
There's a tremendous difference between route travel and truly independent travel. It's strange that it took somebody who was blind to teach me that. But, I'm glad, too, because I knew that the guy who was blind didn't have professional certification. He was just a blind man who was looking for something to do at midnight and figured he could help out another guy. That was wonderful because at that time in my life, I didn't think that blind people could teach other blind people. Again, I thought mobility was a highly technical skill--and it isn't.
I remember when I went for my first job interview. I wanted a summer job, so I went to the Kansas City Association for the Blind, which is a sheltered workshop. That summer I put together pins and put washers on bolts and did all kinds of things that made me a good little stash of money for a college student. My parents had never seen me travel without the benefit of a travel instructor, so my mother decided she was going to have me followed (just like one of the parents out in the audience.) She figured that I would catch her if she did it, (I'm not sure how she thought this) so she asked my cousin to follow me. My cousin at the time was probably about eighteen years old and rather scatterbrained. She was a nice enough kid but couldn't keep on task (that's the term we use for it now). So I got on the city bus and rode from South Kansas City to downtown Kansas City, and while she wasn't looking, I got up and got off the bus. It wasn't until two or three blocks later that she realized I wasn't there anymore. She got off the bus and--not knowing where I was traveling to, only that it had something to do with the blind--went to a phone book. The first thing she saw was the Bureau for the Blind. She went over to the Bureau for the Blind where she and a counselor discussed what a wonderful kid I was while I continued on my way--unaccompanied--to the Kansas City Association for the Blind. So, it didn't do my folks a lot of good to have me followed; but they tried.
It took me a long time to come to see my cane as a symbol of independence. I regarded it as something that I used only when I couldn't foist my mobility off onto somebody else. I want to tell you the story about how I got broke of that attitude. I started dating hot and heavy when I went to college. I enjoyed dating immensely. One night I went out to dinner with a woman. Because my date was sighted, I left my cane at home and went sighted guide. (I thought this was the way that the world worked if you were blind.) We had liver and onions that night and as I was cutting my liver and engaging this woman in conversation (I was showing her how witty I was), the plate moved closer and closer to the edge of the table and suddenly plopped off into my lap. Well, I was in something of a bind, and I was terribly embarrassed. When this woman asked if I wanted her to walk me home so I could change my clothes, I felt bad enough without also accepting the humiliation of having somebody--my date!--walk me home, so I said “No, I'll be fine.” I had to walk six blocks home without a cane. There were several four-lane, lighted street crossings, and I didn't like that very much.
After this experience, it seemed to me that carrying a cane was probably a very good thing. (I also learned to be a little more careful in cutting my liver.) For the first time I realized that I was responsible for my own mobility. I don't know why that was such a hard concept to understand. I guess after years of being taken care of by people--parents, sisters, brothers, friends, teachers, etc.--who had assumed that my mobility was their responsibility, I had come to consider that approach just normal.
Priscilla talked a lot about guide dogs and canes. I used a guide dog for a time when I went to college. I enjoyed using my guide dog, so I don't have a thing to say against using guide dogs. However, I want to give you a couple of precautions which I think Priscilla would go along with. When I got my guide dog I got it because I had some trouble with orientation. I thought, somewhere deep down inside, that I would be able to give a dog a command that said I wanted 3402 West 52nd Street, and the dog would figure out for me how many blocks south and how many blocks west I wanted to go. This didn't happen. In fact, I would say that sometimes a dog aggravated my problems with orientation because I couldn't look for the landmarks which were so obvious to me with a cane. I had to know in my head where we were. The dog didn't let me get close to the trash cans or the telephone poles because he knew that was the surest way to get leash correction, but with a cane I could use these landmarks. With a dog I had to know, in some respects, more about my surroundings in order to get around.
The second thing I thought the dog would solve for me was a certain tension I felt when traveling with a cane. It used to bother me when I would be clipping along with my cane and the cane would hit something. I would have only half a step to react. Well, if you have only half a step to react, you better travel tense; you have to be on your guard and quick to react.
It wasn't until I came to an NFB meeting and somebody said, “Your cane is a couple of feet too short,” that I realized that I didn't have to react in half a step; that I didn't have to walk with my elbow locked and my arm stuck out straight like--try holding your arm like this straight out in front of you for very long! This is what the specialists teach because they say that in order to be a courteous blind person you have to have a short cane that only comes up to your breast bone. Nonsense. Now I have a cane that comes up to my shoulder. Sometimes I have a cane that comes up to the tip of my nose. The length of a cane has nothing to do with courtesy. It has to do with good use. I like traveling with a cane much better now that I get a little over a step's (maybe two) worth of warning. I don't find travel to be the ordeal that I did before. With proper advice, I shouldn't have had to go through any of that.
I don't know that I have a lot more to say except that I think there are a number of mobility techniques that people can use from time to time that are appropriate. Sometimes people tend to frame mobility issues in terms of “I'm fer it and I'm agin it.” Do you use sighted guide or don't you use sighted guide? Do you use diagonal cane technique or don't you? Do you use the pencil grip or don't you? Is it good or bad? Do you use a collapsible cane or straight rigid cane? There are times and places for all of those things. I think the issue is to figure out when you're using a technique because it truly is the most convenient and appropriate for what you are trying to do, and when you're using it as a cop-out. If I want to have a conversation with one of you, and we are cutting through this convention crowd, it may be that I take your arm or you take my arm--whether you're sighted or blind. We'll do that because it is convenient and appropriate for what we want to do--have a conversation and stay together in a crowd. So, sometimes, yes, that may mean that with a sighted person I am going to go sighted guide. But do I give them responsibility for my mobility? Not anymore!
Anyway, that's about all I have to say. I'd be glad to answer any questions that you have.
by Joseph Cutter
Editor’s Note: This material below is reprinted with permission from chapter 1, pages 5-14, of the book by Joe Cutter, Independent Movement and Travel in Blind Children: A Promotion Model, copyright 2007, Information Age Publishing, <www.ifoagepub.com>. Two other segments of the book are also reprinted elsewhere in this issue. In this first segment, Joe describes his innovative approach--the Promotion Model--to working with young blind children from birth through preschool age. When we introduced our readers to his book in our Fall 2007 issue, I said in my review that, “This is more than a book about cane techniques and teaching strategies (although there is enough of that to satisfy the most detail-oriented parent or instructors), it is a guide that lays out a whole new way to think about and approach the facilitating of normal--yes, normal--movement and independence in young blind children.” When you read the personal stories by parents in this issue, you will find Joe Cutter’s name popping up more than once. His practical approach (the Promotion Model), his respect for blind children and their capacities (the bottom up concept, which he also describes below), and his passion for high expectations has been inspiring parents since he started conducting workshops at NFB conventions in the early nineties. Here is Joe:
The word promote has many meanings: to advance, further, improve, dignify, elevate, support, encourage, and advocate. It is an action verb, which calls on us to act in the best interests for the future of blind children. The Promotion Model is an alternative approach to conventional O&M. The building blocks of the Promotion Model are the principles, developmental perspectives, strategies, and practices and techniques that fuel and facilitate independent movement and travel; independent movement and travel in blind children is the essence and goal of the Promotion Model.
The goal of the Promotion Model means freedom, hope, and full participation in society for the blind child. The Promotion Model means freedom for the blind child and freedom for the parent. New possibilities for a positive, asset-oriented perspective and developmental approach are created by the Promotion Model. In this model, the parent is the child’s first teacher of O&M, and the parent’s role must be respected and nurtured by professional service providers.
For blind children, as for all children, the freedom to move, to be self-amused, and experience the joy of movement is fundamental to being human. When exploring and traveling in the world, children have the need and drive to choose where and when to go and to initiate, sustain, monitor; and terminate their own movement. Independent movement and travel means making decisions, problem solving, and developing good judgment. For blind children this means moving and traveling in the world with the cane at a very early age.
For parents, independent movement and travel means freedom because children will be learning to take age/stage appropriate responsibility for their own actions. The Promotion Model gives hope to parents, knowing that their child will grow to full capacity and be a full participant in life. Because the parent is the child’s first teacher, it has been said, “the mother’s lap is the first classroom.” For this “classroom,” the parent requires developmental guidance from the professional service provider. Useful, reliable, and positive partnerships are needed for parents with O&M professionals and other professional service providers who truly understand the blind child’s requirements for independent movement and travel.
One requirement is that parents and the O&M professional both place a high value on early movement and travel. In the Promotion Model, the sighted/human guide technique, where the child holds on to someone else’s arm, takes a back seat to the blind child’s movement. Instead, we encourage children to take age/stage appropriate responsibility for their independent movement and travel by developing self-monitored movement with the cane, which will take a front seat on the road to independence.
For the O&M professional, independent movement and travel means offering a developmental menu that respects the alternative skills of blindness. Regarding the partially sighted blind child, professional service providers must use caution not to push vision to the point of inefficiency. This can happen when partially sighted (legally blind) children are not taught the skills of blindness and yet are expected to compete with their sighted peers with only 10% or less of typical vision.
Touch and hearing will be the blind child’s most important senses in learning nonvisual skills. Such skills will be the blind child’s passport to freedom. Cane travel is a very important life skill for the blind child. The Promotion Model acknowledges that the use of the cane is part of the readiness for travel. Readiness serves the goal of independence. In the Promotion Model there is no room for a readiness curriculum that is forever getting the child ready to use the cane with unnecessary tasks that may serve the “curriculum checklist” but not the goal of age/stage appropriate independence in movement and travel. Therefore, the Promotion Model values the early start to cane travel in blind children.
One of the best ways to treat parents with respect and promote independent movement and travel in blind children is to offer “informed choice” as a professional service provider. This means respecting blindness, the skills of blindness, and the parent as the child’s first teacher for O&M. To do this, professional service providers must be knowledgeable about the spectrum of conventional and alternative O&M practices. When O&M professionals do not understand or are not “up on” the benefits of a very early start to cane travel, then they are usually “down on it.”
O&M professionals must be knowledgeable about the effect the characteristics of the cane have on its use by the child. For example, the length of the cane has a direct effect on the success of the child to navigate safely and effectively. The longer cane approach and the lighter cane approach to travel offer advantages to the traveler over only the shorter and heavier cane approach (discussed in chapter 4). By understanding how the characteristics of the cane can have an effect on the blind child’s travel, professional service providers can offer such possibilities for many more positive experiences in movement and travel.
When professional service providers are not knowledgeable about the conventional and nonconventional approaches to independent movement and travel for children, parents are not benefiting from informed choice. Instead, we are taking a risk with the decisions parents will need and want to make for their child and for the blind child’s future in independent movement and travel.
The Promotion Model acknowledges that there is a “sighted bias” to conventional approaches to O&M. For example, formalized O&M developed after World War II and was created by sighted individuals for blind persons who once had vision. Obviously, none of the veterans who lost their vision during the war were born blind. Therefore, the protocols and content of the curriculum did not have the congenitally blind child in mind. The protocols for teaching O&M practices called for “visual monitoring” of the blind person. This meant that the O&M professional must have vision to observe the blind student in the lesson. We know today that blind people can be and are O&M professionals as well.
As a conventionally trained, sighted O&M professional service provider, I have come to understand how my vision has affected my interactions with blind children. My sighted orientation to the world does not employ all the same skills as a blind person’s orientation to the world. There are nonvisual skills that I do not use.
What often results from not employing or not knowing about the skills of blindness is that children will be vulnerable to adults placing low expectations on them, often using misconceptions about blindness to guide their practices. Consequently, the child will experience delays in the acquisition of life skills for independent movement and travel.
Adults have a choice of what to believe about blindness and what information to use to guide their interactions with blind children. We can offer developmentally appropriate skills. Whether the child is developing as a typical child or with developmental delays, we can facilitate independence in O&M or interfere with the learning of such necessary skills. Blind children with multiple disabilities are even more vulnerable to being misunderstood. The misconceptions about blind children that guide their educational plan are often the result of lowered expectations for what they can achieve.
Through the organized blind I have learned more thoroughly about the skills of blindness and a blindness perspective that, in functional O&M terms, is at times, different than my sighted perspective. As I have become more educated to an alternate orientation to skill development, I have learned to be more aware of my sighted bias. Over the years, this has made me a more effective instructor, the results of which are demonstrated by the increased success of my students.
In addition to the partnership between the parent and the O&M professional we can add a positive, skilled blind role model for the blind child. One description of a skilled blind role model is a mentor. For example, in the first years of the blind child’s development, such a blind adult will have a significant, positive, and hopeful influence on expectations of the child’s parents. As the child matures, the mentor’s guidance will contribute to positive self-esteem and a “can do” attitude. Parents and professional service providers will find a rich resource for skilled blind mentors among the organized blind who value independent movement and travel in blind children. In the Resources section such organizations are listed.
The Building Blocks of the Promotion Model
Below are the building blocks of the Promotion Model. First, the philosophy, which is its essence and spirit. Second, the principles, which are the foundational truths that support the model. Third, the developmental perspectives, which are the fundamental beliefs to fuel and guide the model. Fourth, the strategies, which put the philosophy, principles, and developmental perspectives into a plan for action. And fifth, the practices and techniques, which facilitate and put the strategies into action in the everyday learning and development of life skills for the independent movement and travel of blind children.
Philosophically, we must acknowledge that child development is built on gain and not loss. The adult-centered approach of conventional O&M gives significant consideration to the loss of vision that adults experience later in life. When looking at child development, however, the Promotion Model recognizes that loss of vision does not factor significantly in the developmental gains that children make every day. Children born blind or who lose vision in the first years of life do not experience the type of loss associated with adults who lose vision. These children have not acquired years of developing visual skills nor do they possess a visual orientation to the world that has a long-standing integration into their personality.
For blind children, success is not measured by how much vision they have, but rather is built on how many skills are developed for independent movement and travel. With one skill built upon another, the goal of development is mastery over the environment to move and travel safely, confidently, and independently.
In the Promotion Model, the child leads the way, and if we are willing to learn from the child, many possibilities emerge. As an O&M professional service provider, I have connected with parents of blind children, incorporated them into my service delivery plan, and learned much from their experiences with their blind children. I have partnered with the organized blind that have provided me with positive, skilled blind role models for independent movement and travel. The building blocks of the Promotion Model have been developed from years of such learning from blind children, their parents, and skilled blind adults (the organized blind). Together, they form the fabric of the “nature and nurture” of independent movement and travel. Together, they present a formidable, alternative program of O&M to promote the independent movement and travel of blind children.
The child is not born with concepts of the world. The baby is born with sensory systems, like “fingers of the brain,” that gather information. With sensory and motor experiences the child matures over time and gives purposeful thought to what is experienced. One way to describe this process is bottom-up, which means that out of the experience comes the concept. If the experiences we give blind children are developmentally sound they will experience independent movement and travel age/stage appropriately. Blind children will develop the concept or self-perception of themselves as travelers.
Historically, conventional O&M was developed as an adult-centered approach. Its protocols were developed from an adult point of view for adult learners. For instance, the adult was given the concept of a new skill and the skill demonstrated for him/her. Then the newly blinded adult would perform the skill. This can be described as a top-down approach, which means that out of the concept comes the experience. This is a very different approach than bottom-up, which is the perspective of the Promotion Model.
Bottom-up is driven by the sensory and motor experiences of the child, and top-down driven by the cognitive concepts directing the movements of the adult. For example, when blind children under three years of age are learning to use the cane, they will need to be amused, explore, and have fun with their cane. Their movements will be more exaggerated and less refined. On the other hand, these are not the behaviors or the goal of the adult learning cane travel for the first time; adults will be ready to perform at a different cognitive level of understanding.
When promoting independent movement and travel in blind children we need to approach skill acquisition from the bottom-up, making sure our intervention and practice is suited to the developmental ability of the child. Imposing a top-down approach at a developmentally inappropriate level will meet with frustration and disappointment for both the child and the teacher. As a result, the conventional O&M instructor often assesses that the child is not ready for O&M instruction or ready for using a cane. In the latter case a pre-cane device is often used. Within the Promotion Model, however, the blind child is ready for instruction, just not from the top-down but rather from the bottom-up.
by Edward Bell, PhD
Editor’s Note: The following piece is reprinted from the February 2008 issue of the Braille Monitor, <www.nfb.org/nfb/Braille_Monitor.asp>. The introduction is made by Dan Frye, Manager of Affiliate Action--Advocacy and Training at the National Center for the Blind, and coordinator of the Dare to Be Remarkable conference on residential rehabilitation training centers.
From Dan Frye: Dr. Edward Bell, director of the Professional Development and Research Institute on Blindness at Louisiana Tech University, delivered an illuminating lecture on the definition, purposes, and practical application of the structured discovery teaching method and general philosophical mindset at the Dare to Be Remarkable conference during the second plenary session on December 6, 2007. Using his personal life experience, theoretical underpinnings, and quantifiable research to illustrate the concept of structured discovery, Dr. Bell makes clear this often misunderstood approach and shows how it can be put to practical use in the context of rehabilitation training of blind consumers. His comments, while not exhaustive on the topic, will be a good primer on structured discovery for us all to consider. This is what he said:
“Structured discovery” is the term that has been coined to define a specific methodology used in the rehabilitation of blind people. This methodology, born out of the collective knowledge, experiences, and beliefs of successful blind men and women who have achieved independence, serves as the driving force behind effective rehabilitation training today. But what is structured discovery, and how can it be implemented in classrooms and training programs throughout the country? The answer is simple yet allusive and intangible.
Before one can implement structured discovery in a training situation, one must first have a fundamental understanding of this concept at both the intellectual and intuitive levels. Structured discovery is not a set of principles or rules that can be written down and taught in a couple of modules. It is instead a fundamental shift in the worldview, philosophy, and scope of practice within which a person operates. It is part and parcel of who a person is as a teacher. Anyone who tells you that he or she teaches both conventional and structured discovery methods has a fundamental misunderstanding of the idea—it is not possible to pick and choose which methodology to use if you are a true structured discovery instructor. In attempting to clarify the issue, I will use personal experiences, theoretical foundations, and research to explain structured discovery.
I was born in Albuquerque, New Mexico, and was raised as a hopeful, independent sighted child. Although I grew up in poverty with no opportunity for a college education, I was at least raised with the expectation that I would work, have a family, and contribute to society in some way. When I was suddenly blinded at age seventeen as a result of a gunshot wound, my entire world changed. Although I had never met another blind person in my life, I knew in my gut that my life would be severely limited, that my opportunities for employment were nil, and that my expectations for a normal life were gone. This was evident to me despite the fact that I had had no exposure to blindness prior to my own accident.
Knowing nothing about blindness, we contacted the state VR agency to learn about our options. I learned that I had access to informed choice and had the right to choose my own employment goal and service providers. In the age of informed choice this would have been the expected course of action. This information alone, however, would have been, not informed choice, but uninformed chance, and the results would have been disastrous.
You know the choice in the old adage, give a man a fish…or teach him to fish…. At that point in my life I did not want to fish, I did not believe that blind people could fish, and I was not motivated to learn to fish. Had I lived in many other states, failure to fish would have been my choice, and my case would have been closed. I lived in New Mexico, however, where my rehabilitation counselor knew better. She recognized that my diminished hope and lack of aspiration was not my true goal, but rather a result of the diminished expectation of society that I had internalized. My counselor expected that I would go to the orientation center, expected that I would complete my GED, and expected that I would then go to college. She did not hold another gun to my head, but rather insisted on my success through her unending love, encouragement, and support. She was not content to provide me with options and allow me to make a choice knowing that I would sell myself short. This is an example of the way structured discovery works.
At the orientation center positive blind role models (both staff and students) surrounded me. They immediately put a cane in my hand and got me out onto the streets. They taught me techniques, helped me to overcome my fears, and demonstrated to me through my own success that I was going to make it. Each time I attempted to gain sympathy from my instructors by telling them my dramatic story of being blinded in a drive-by shooting, their response was, “I am sorry to hear that, but what are you going to do now?” I quickly concluded that no one was feeling sorry for me and that I should get over it. Once the pity party was over, my only choice was to look forward and never to look back. This is the way structured discovery works.
So I immediately jumped into college and then into my present career, right? Wrong. I was still the uneducated kid from the ghetto who did not have a strong academic background, had no role models from home, and had no interest in pursuing higher education. My instructors at the center and fellow students, who today are my dear friends, would not allow me to sell myself short. They encouraged me, helped me to study for remedial classes, and expected that I would be successful. They helped me to problem-solve challenges in college, picked me up when I fell down, and reminded me that we were all in this together. This is the way structured discovery works.
For some of you my story is entirely illustrative, while for others structured discovery remains illusive. I will try to explain. While it is often characterized by a cane and sleepshades, structured discovery is more accurately a holistic approach to the way we work with all blind people. It is simultaneously a set of specific skills and an overarching approach to the way we view the condition of blindness. Too often professionals in the field view the longer white cane and sleepshades and come to the conclusion that they have defined structured discovery. In true behavioral psychology it is easier to describe that which is directly observable. Structured discovery, however, borrows much more heavily from the cognitive-psychology side of the fence, where considerably more emphasis is placed on the changes that happen within an individual, but, which are not directly observable by the naked eye. Far more than a philosophical approach, over forty years of empirical research in social cognitive learning supports the foundations of structured discovery.
True, a structured discovery program depends heavily on a long white cane, and sleepshades are used throughout the instruction. These, however, are merely the means to the end, but not the end in itself. Structured discovery at its core has much more to do with the cognitive, emotive, and behavioral changes that occur within the individual. Dr. Jernigan built this methodology by focusing on mastery of blindness skills, building self-confidence, learning to cope with public attitudes about blindness, and changing the way individuals think of themselves as blind people. His foresight and knowledge are the foundation of the methodology that has come to be known as structured discovery.
Albert Bandura, a leading cognitive psychologist, has helped us to articulate the concept of self-efficacy and the way these processes are achieved through structured discovery training. Bandura did not study blindness, and Dr. Jernigan did not study Bandura, but the philosophy and research are inseparable. It is important to note here that self-efficacy is not unique to blindness but is fundamentally the way human beings learn. More than forty years of empirical research has been done to explain how individuals succeed in accomplishing their goals. These are the tenants found in structured discovery training.
Bandura stated that self-efficacy is the cornerstone of human agency and is defined as an individual’s belief in his or her capacity to carry out actions effectively to achieve desired goals. According to Bandura there are four primary ways to increase self-efficacy, and it is these tenets that underlie structured discovery training.
1. The most powerful way to increase efficacy is by succeeding at tasks one considered difficult or impossible—success breeds success. It is not achieved through counseling or talking about it, but by having the direct experience for oneself in a meaningful way. Structured discovery functions to provide extensive experiences to people in real-world situations. Through Socratic questioning they learn to problem-solve in every situation, from how to judge the safety of a street crossing to living independently. Each small success builds efficacy to accomplish greater and greater goals.
2. The second most potent means to increase efficacy is through role modeling or witnessing someone who is similar to you doing the very task you fear. This is not trivial but a cornerstone of structured discovery learning. It is simply not sufficient for an instructor to talk about how important nonvisual skills are. If he cannot put his money where his mouth is, the student will lose all confidence in him. This is why structured discovery centers hire blind instructors and insure that sighted instructors can do their jobs nonvisually. By the same token, if blind students see their fellow students constantly going sighted guide, deferring to students with more vision, and depending on sighted instructors to protect them during challenging tasks, they will come to believe that blindness means dependency, not independence. The actions of instructors and other students have a far greater impact on the outcomes for the student body than any amount of rhetoric about independence.
3. The third way to increase efficacy is through persuasion, which is the encouragement, support, and praise we give students when they succeed at their goals. Critical to structured discovery is that instructors find ways to praise students for their success, but only for meaningful success. When praise is given for accomplishments that are mundane or trivial, it serves more to lessen and not strengthen efficacy. Structured discovery centers work constantly to recognize the day-to-day accomplishments of each student, while continuing to push them to move onto the next challenge. Announcing bell ringers [victories worthy of celebration], sampling each other’s creations in home ec, and debriefing after lessons are all ways that the instructor provides encouragement and motivation for the student to try harder.
4. Finally, emotions effect efficacy in two ways--by increasing positive feelings or pride in success, and by reducing fear and anxiety about performance. In other words, a small amount of stress challenges the student to work harder; however, confidence may be diminished if stress exceeds one's current ability. In structured discovery, no matter what the student’s capacity, it is critical to push that student continually to meet higher and higher challenges. People tend to live up to the expectations that others hold for them, whether the expectation is high or low. What is wrong with shooting for the moon? If you miss, you will still be among the stars. Once you stop providing meaningful challenges to students, you can stop the training--you can send them home because you are no longer using the structured discovery method.
Structured discovery centers build self-efficacy in many ways. It is counterproductive to try to come up with a list of activities or modules to teach using the structured discovery method. In the first place, the list will quickly become outdated, and, in the second place, attempting to do so contradicts the very nature of structured discovery. Teaching occurs in many environments, and the learner must be challenged on all levels. Structured discovery is about providing students with meaningful experiences that build their skill sets while simultaneously boosting their confidence in their ability to do more things. This is done through experiential learning, viewing positive role models, and continually raising the bar for one another. This is the methodology that Dr. Jernigan laid out fifty years ago, and it is based on the same principles that have been empirically validated for more than forty years in many realms of human learning.
The proof is in the pudding. What has happened with all of these people who have learned using the structured discovery method? In attempting to understand the true nature of structured discovery and to provide the evidence that supports its efficacy, we at the Professional Development and Research Institute on Blindness at Louisiana Tech University have begun to study students who have received structured discovery training. The following studies highlight the important factors of structured discovery. Some of the participants graduated from structured discovery centers, learned through their experiences in the NFB, or participated in programs that used structured discovery elements.
Functional Independence: In 2004 Dr. Ram Aditya conducted a study involving 228 blind adults who had graduated from residential training programs across the country. The study used a measure created by Dr. Aditya to quantify the functional independence of blind adults in their daily lives. The scales included measures of daily living, mobility, information access, and home management skills. The results demonstrated that individuals taught using the structured discovery model of training had statistically higher scores on the functional independence scale. Not only did recipients have significantly higher reported belief in their ability to function independently, but they had even more highly significant scores on their reported behaviors of living independently. This means that, not only did individuals state that they were more confident in their abilities to live independently, but they were in fact more engaged in society and living independently. The data support the premise that the structured discovery teaching method is more efficacious in cultivating ability and behavior of independent functioning.
Focus Group: Just over a year ago Professor Mary Ann Goodwyn and I conducted two focus group studies of blind adults whom we determined to have met objective criteria of success, and we asked them to illuminate the factors that they believed had led to their success. This qualitative study of fourteen NFB members revealed that success, beyond economic factors, was defined by having control over one’s life, achieving important goals, doing the things one wanted to do, giving back to others, and having a quality life led with integrity and good will towards others. After more than twelve hours of focused discussion, participants reported that the factors they associated with their success were having strong family expectations for success; finally coming to accept blindness and identifying themselves as blind; gaining skills for independence, especially in mobility and Braille; having access to positive blind role models; learning problem-solving skills for work and life; involvement in an organization which provides personal identity, social support, an opportunity to give back, and a feeling of normalcy and commonality; and the collective efficacy that comes from knowing that one is part of a social network of like-minded individuals who work collectively to achieve their common goals.
Mentoring: We have already said that role modeling is a critical component of structured discovery. Dr. Betsy Zaborowski, former executive director of the Jernigan Institute and a beloved NFB leader who recently died of cancer, knew this and endeavored to create a national model for mentoring blind or visually impaired youth. Through this one-to-one role modeling and the infusing of problem-solving techniques, structured discovery has been implemented. Data have now been collected for youth who have participated for two years in the NFB mentoring program along with new applicants who have not yet benefited from a mentoring relationship. Data have been collected on 153 individuals, fifty-four of whom have completed the mentoring program and ninety-nine of whom are just beginning. The results demonstrated that youth who have participated in a mentoring relationship with a member of the NFB for at least one year had statistically significant higher attitudes about blindness. These youth also demonstrated a measure of hope for their future. Those in the mentoring program had significantly higher scores than those who had not participated. As was revealed in the focus group study, affiliation with the NFB was associated with greater acceptance of blindness, which in turn was associated with higher levels of hope and healthier attitudes about blindness.
Youth Slam: In July 2007 the NFB conducted the first ever Youth Slam, which brought nearly two hundred youth to Baltimore to be surrounded by positive blind role models, to encourage their interest in science-technology-engineering-and-math-related (STEM) careers and to provide them with a network of blind mentors to assist in their success. I have been involved in the data analysis of participating youth. Pretest data were collected on 131 youth, and posttest data were obtained from 122 of those youth. While the results are still being compiled, the data so far demonstrate that youth who participated in the Slam had statistically higher attitudes about blindness after their participation. Additionally, youth reported significantly higher rates of confidence in their ability to achieve passing grades in STEM-related courses. Here again we find an association between the exposure to positive blind role models, the use of nonvisual techniques, and problem-solving skills with personal attitudes about blindness, and confidence in succeeding through challenging events.
For those interested in these statistical analyses, all significant findings reported here were found with probability values less than .05 and .01. Neither the qualitative nor the quantitative research studies capture the full scope of structured discovery, yet each supports the fundamental elements that make up a structured discovery program. The anecdotal evidence that supports structured discovery training is noteworthy. I have had an opportunity to work with several programs interested in adopting the structured discovery methodology. When I ask why they are interested, the first thing said is, “We have seen graduates of NFB centers walking around, and they are so confident and poised.” At least once a month I receive phone calls from centers around the country hoping to hire our graduates. While their O&M needs are great, these programs recognize the value of structured discovery, and the directors insist on this type of training. Although such information is not quantifiable, when it is taken as a whole, it is compelling.
In summary, the job of a structured discovery instructor is to consider the entire individual, including his or her desires, aspirations, hopes, and dreams. It is not sufficient for such an instructor merely to provide a set of skills and feel that her work is done. She should feel that it is her professional responsibility to change the attitudes about blindness of individual students and society as much as it is to do anything else. It is not just philosophy. It is her ethical responsibility to the profession. It is her role as a structured discovery instructor, and it is entirely within the scope of best practice in her profession.
For, though we all want to teach a man to fish so that he will eat for a lifetime, we must first inspire him to pick up the pole, we must stand by him when he falters, and we must show him how to cast the line that is his future. This is what structured discovery is all about.
An Address Delivered by
at the Convention of the
National Federation of the Blind
Dallas, Texas, July 6, 1993
Editor’s Note: Dr. Jernigan died of cancer in 1998, but his influence lives on through his works and his words. He was president of the National Federation of the Blind for almost two decades, and the director of the Iowa Commission for the Blind for twenty years. He was a leader, a builder, and an innovator in the rehabilitation and education of the blind. But he was first and foremost a teacher who could always help us find a new way to look at life and the issues of blindness. Here is his lesson about the nature of independence:
Shortly after last year's convention, I received a number of letters from students at the Louisiana Center for the Blind. It was clear that the letters were written as the result of discussions held at the Center and that, although the apparent topic was independent mobility, the real issue was independence in general, and how blind persons should live and behave. I want to share those letters with you, then tell you how I answered them, and finally say a few things about what I think independence really is. The letters are all dated July 23, 1992. Here is a composite of them:
Dear Dr. Jernigan:
I am a sophomore in high school. Right now, I am in a teenage program that the Louisiana Center for the Blind is sponsoring. It is the STEP program. That means Summer Training and Employment Project. We are allowed to get jobs and make money as well as have classes.
A few weeks ago I attended the national convention. I really enjoyed all your speeches and everything. People noticed that you and Mr. Maurer walked sighted guide sometimes, [I interrupt to call your attention to the almost code-word use of the term “sighted guide.” Not “walking with a sighted guide” or “walking with a sighted person” or “holding the arm of a sighted person,” but “walking sighted guide.” This makes it clear that the concept of “sighted guide” has been the topic of considerable conversation. But back to the letter.] and we thought you all would never walk sighted guide, because you all are so highly involved in the NFB. I never thought sighted guide was OK until then. So why did you all use sighted guide? I know there are many reasons why this might be. We discussed this in one of our talk times and came up with one reason this might be. We know that you all have to be at meetings all the time, and it would be faster if you would use sighted guide. [I interrupt again to call your attention to the use in the following sentences of the depersonalized “it.” Now, back to the letter.] I am sure you don't use it so much that you lose your cane travel skills. I am not trying to say this is wrong. I was just wondering why you do this. Someone brought up that if we, as the people being trained at the moment, were caught using sighted guide, they would fuss at us. And I realize that you are not the one in training, so it is not wrong. We couldn't use sighted guide, because we might want to use it more than the cane if we use too much of it.
Dear Dr. Jernigan:
During this past convention in North Carolina some of us noticed that you did
not walk with a cane. I do not understand this at all. I can understand that
you have to be in many places in a short amount of time at the conventions,
and that might be the reason you went sighted guide. But I also know that when
you came for a tour of the Center, you also went sighted guide. We do not understand
this. We all have our own theories as to why you went sighted guide, but we
want to get the correct answer straight from the horse's mouth.
Your fellow Federationist,
That's a very clear-cut letter, and I am pleased to be called that end of the horse. Here is the last one:
Dear Dr. Jernigan:
This year I came to Charlotte to attend my third national convention of the NFB. I am currently a student at the Louisiana Center for the Blind in the STEP program for blind teenagers. This program stresses cane use, Braille literacy, employment readiness, and self-confidence based on achievement. While at the convention I heard from a friend that you were never actually seen using your cane. I discussed this with a group of friends, and it was decided that you most likely had many places to go and had to get to them quickly. This made sense, and the question seemed settled. Then one of the group remembered you using sighted guide during a tour you took of the Center while passing through Ruston on the way to the Dallas convention in 1990. This was such a hectic situation, and the question was no longer settled because the only alternative travel technique anyone noticed you using was sighted guide.
I do not mean this letter to imply any disrespect towards you, the Federation, or its many achievements. If the Federation had not pushed so hard for independence for the blind, I would have no grounds on which to write this letter. It is because of my own personal convictions about independence that I ask why the figurehead of the NFB is not himself using the alternative techniques that his student, Joanne Wilson, has been teaching for nearly ten years in Ruston.
I would prefer to end the letter on a positive note. I realize that you are responsible for the training I am currently receiving, and I am grateful for it. I am not implying that you have no cane skills, because I do not honestly know.
These are straightforward letters, seriously written. They raise fundamental questions, questions that deserve a reasoned answer. Here is the expanded substance of what I wrote:
July 29, 1992
Under date of July 23, 1992, the three of you wrote to ask me why I didn't travel alone with a cane during the national convention in Charlotte and why on a visit to the Louisiana Center in 1990 I took a sighted person's arm instead of walking alone with a cane. I appreciate your letters and will tell you why I do what I do.
In the first place let us assume that I didn't have any cane travel skills at all. This might be comparable to the situation of a parent who had no education but dreamed of an education for his or her child. That parent might preach the value of education and might work to send the child to high school and then to college. The parent might, though personally uneducated, feel tremendous satisfaction at the learning and accomplishment which his or her effort had made possible. In such circumstances what attitude should the child have toward the parent? The child might be critical of the parent for his or her poor grammar and lack of education and might even be ashamed to associate with the parent--or the child might feel gratitude for the sacrifice and the work that had made the education possible.
This is not an apt analogy since I have perfectly good cane skills, but it has elements of truth about it. When I was a child, there were no orientation centers or mobility training. The only canes available were the short, heavy, wooden type, and we youngsters associated carrying a cane with begging, shuffling along, and being helpless.
It was not until I finished college and had taught for four years in Tennessee that I first carried a cane. It was made of wood and had a crook handle. I might also say that it was longer than most of those in vogue at the time, forty inches. I started using it in 1953, just before going to California to work at the newly established state orientation center for the blind. The Center had been in operation for only a few months and had enrolled only four or five students by the time of my arrival.
In those days the California Center was using 42-inch aluminum canes. They were a tremendous improvement over the 40-inch wooden cane I had been carrying, and I immediately adopted the new model. Even so, it seemed that something better was needed. I worked with the person who had been employed as the travel teacher, and we experimented with different techniques and canes.
In the mid-1950's the solid fiberglass cane was developed. It was first made by a blind man in Kansas, but we at the California Center popularized it and brought it into general use. We also worked to improve the tip. Our students received intensive training, those with any sight using blindfolds (or, as we called them, sleep shades), and our students and graduates were identifiable in any group of blind persons because of their competence and ease in travel. Since they had enjoyed the benefit of our study and experimentation, as well as intensive instruction and the time to practice, many of them probably became better travelers than I--and I felt pride and satisfaction in the fact. We were advancing on the road to freedom and independence.
In 1958 I went to Iowa as director of the state commission for the blind, and I carried with me the experience and knowledge I had acquired in California plus a 48-inch fiberglass cane and a head full of new ideas and hopes for the future. I hired a young sighted man who had no experience at all with blindness and spent several days giving him preliminary instruction in mobility, using blind techniques. First I had him follow me all over Des Moines, watching me use the cane while crossing streets and going to various places. Then, he put on sleep shades, and I worked with him to learn basic skills. Next I sent him to California for three or four weeks to gain further experience and to compare what I had taught him with what the California Center was doing. Finally he came back to Des Moines, and I spent several more weeks working with him until (though sighted) he could (under blindfold) go anywhere he wanted safely and comfortably using a cane.
During all of that time I worked with him on attitudes, for unless one believes that he or she is capable of independence as a blind person, independence in travel (as in other areas) is not truly achievable. This travel instructor's name is Jim Witte, and he developed into one of the best I have ever known. Iowa students rapidly became the envy of the nation. You could single them out in any group because of their bearing, their confidence, and their skill in travel. As had been the case in California, some of them undoubtedly traveled better than I, and I felt a deep sense of fulfillment in the fact. Joanne Wilson (the director of your own Louisiana Center) was one of those students, and I am sure she has told you how it was at the Iowa Center--how students were treated, what was expected of them, the relationship between staff and students, our dreams for the future, and how we set about accomplishing those dreams. Arlene Hill (one of your teachers) was also an Iowa student. Both Joanne and Arlene are living examples of what we taught and how it worked. So are President Maurer, Mrs. Maurer, Peggy Pinder, Ramona Walhof, Jim Gashel, Jim Omvig, and at least fifty others in this audience.
It was in Iowa that we developed the hollow fiberglass cane. It was an improvement over the solid cane, lighter and more flexible. We also gradually began to use longer and longer canes. They enabled us to walk faster without diminishing either safety or grace. As I have already told you, I started with a 40-inch wooden cane. Then I went to a 42-inch aluminum--and after that to solid fiberglass, then to hollow fiberglass, and (three or four years ago) to hollow carbon fiber. As to length, I went from 40 inches to 42, then to 45, 48, 49, 51, 53, 55, and 57. At present I use a 59-inch cane. It seems about right to me for my height and speed of travel. Will I ever use a still longer cane? I don't know--but at this stage I don't think so. Obviously there comes a time when a longer cane is a disadvantage instead of a help.
I've told you all of this so that you may understand something of my background and approach to independence in travel, and independence in general. The doctors who established the medical schools a hundred years ago were (with notable exceptions) not generally as competent and skilled as the doctors they trained, for they did not have the benefit of the kind of concentrated teaching they themselves were providing. Obviously they could not stand on their own shoulders. Through their students they extended their dreams into the future, building possibilities that they themselves had not known and could never hope to realize.
So it is with me in relation to you. You are the third generation of our mobility trainees, having the benefit of what I have learned and also of what Joanne and the other Iowa graduates have learned.
Unless you make advances over what we have done, you will, in a very real sense, fail to keep faith with those who have gone before you and those who will follow. In this context I would expect and hope that some of you will become better travelers (and, perhaps, better philosophers and teachers) than I, and if you do, I will take joy in it.
Having said all of this, let me come back to my own travel skills. During the 1950's I traveled completely alone on a constant basis throughout this entire country, going to almost every state and dealing with almost every kind of environment--urban area, city bus, taxi, complicated street crossing, rural setting, hired private car, country road, and almost anything else you can imagine. During late December and early January of 1956 and 1957, for example, I traveled alone to fourteen states in eleven days, writing testimony for the NFB's Right to Organize bill. It was no big deal, and not something I thought about very much. It was simply a job that had to be done, and the travel was incidental and taken for granted. I have taught travel instructors and have developed new techniques and canes. I travel whenever and wherever I want to go in the most convenient way to get there--and sometimes that means alone, using a cane.
Once when I was in Iowa, students observed that I walked to a barber shop one day with another staff member, and they raised with me some of the same questions you have raised. That afternoon in our business class (you may call it by some other name--philosophy or something else) I dealt with the matter. I told the students some of the things I have told you, and then I went on to say something like this:
“Although what I have told you should mean that even if I couldn't travel with much skill at all I might still not merit your criticism, we don't need to leave it at that. Follow me. We are going to take a walk through downtown traffic--and see that you keep up.”
I took the lead, and we walked for eight or ten blocks at a fast clip. When we got back to the classroom, I didn't need to tell them what kind of travel skills I had. They knew.
Then, we talked about why I had walked to the barber shop with another staff member. In that particular instance I had matters to discuss, and I felt I couldn't afford the luxury of doing nothing while going for a haircut. As a matter of fact, in those days I often made a practice of taking my secretary with me to the barber shop and dictating letters while getting my hair cut. Of course, I could have made a point of walking alone each time just to make a visible demonstration of my independence, but somehow I think that such insecurity might have made the opposite point and would certainly have been counterproductive.
In the Iowa days I was not only director of the state Commission for the Blind but also First Vice President and then President of the National Federation of the Blind. Both were full-time jobs, requiring me to use to best advantage every waking minute. I was up before 6:00 to go to the gym with the men students; I wrote over a hundred letters a week; I entertained legislators and other civic leaders an average of two or three nights a week to gain support for our program; I traveled throughout the state to make speeches; and I spent long hours working individually with students. Besides that, I handled the administrative details of the Commission and the NFB on a daily basis. At the same time I was doing organizing in other states and dealing with problems brought to me by Federationists throughout the country.
In that context it would have been a bad use of my time (and both Federationists and Iowa students and staff would have thought so) for me to spend much of my day walking down the street to make a visible show of my independent travel skills. I traveled alone when I needed to, and I gave demonstrations to students, legislators, and others when I needed to do that--but I never did either to convince myself or to establish in my own mind the fact of my capacity or independence. It didn't seem necessary.
So what about the NFB convention in Charlotte? I was in charge of convention organization and arrangements, and there were a thousand details to handle. There were four hotels and a convention center, each with its own staff and each requiring separate handling and a myriad of decisions. Sometimes I had not only one but two or three people with me as I went from place to place, talking about what had to be done and sending this person here and that person yonder.
Even so, I might (you may say) have refused to take the arm of one of the persons with me and used my cane to walk alone. But for what reason? When a blind person is walking through a crowd or down a street with somebody else and trying to carry on a meaningful conversation, it is easier to take the other person's arm. This is true even if you are the best traveler in the world and even if both of you are blind.
In fact, I contend that there are times when refusing to take an arm that is offered may constitute the very opposite of independence. If, for instance, you are a blind person accompanying a sighted person through a busy restaurant closely packed with tables and chairs, do you create a better image of independence by trying to get through the maze alone, with the sighted person going in front and constantly calling back, “This way! This way!” or by simply taking the sighted person's arm and going to the table? What is better about following a voice than following an arm? From what I have said, I presume it is clear which method I favor. Of course, if no arm is conveniently available, you should be prepared to use another method, regardless of how crowded the restaurant or how labyrinthine the path. In either case you should do it without losing your cool. But I'll tell you what alternative is not acceptable in such circumstance-pretending that you don't want anything to eat and not going at all. That's not acceptable.
But back to the convention. When you are trying to get through crowds quickly to go from meeting to meeting, and possibly also trying to find different people in those crowds in a hurry, the efficiency of sighted assistance multiplies. Incidentally, even if I were sighted and doing the things I do at national conventions, I would want two or three persons with me--to look for people in crowds, to send for this and that, and to talk and advise with.
As an example, consider what happened at last year's convention with respect to Secretary of Education Lamar Alexander. He has normal eyesight and is in every other way, so far as I know, able-bodied and energetic. I am sure that he can drive a car and walk vigorously. Yet he sent an assistant to Charlotte a day in advance of his arrival. The assistant scouted out the convention and then went to the airport to meet the Secretary. The assistant drove the car from the airport to the convention, accompanied the Secretary into the meeting hall, went with him to the platform, met him at the edge of the platform when he finished speaking, and drove him back to the airport. If the Secretary had been blind, I wonder if somebody would have said, “Just look! He's not independent. He has to have a sighted person with him at all times, accompanying him everywhere he goes and driving his car.”
Since I am not a student trying to learn to travel independently or to establish within my own mind that I can compete on terms of equality with others, and since I can and do travel by myself when that is most convenient, I feel no particular obligation to make a demonstration when it is more efficient to do otherwise. If I were a student, I should and would behave differently. As an example, I think a student should always use a rigid (not a collapsible) cane. But I generally use one that is collapsible. Why? Students often are uncomfortable with canes, and if they are allowed to use those that fold or telescope, they may tend to hide or conceal them because they think (even if subconsciously) that it will make them look less conspicuous. I have carried a cane for so long that I would feel naked without it, and I always carry one whether I am with somebody or not. Because they were so rickety, I refused to carry a collapsible cane until we developed the telescoping carbon fiber model. I pull it to such a tight fit that it doesn't collapse as I use it, and I almost never collapse it unless I'm in close quarters. Again, it is a convenience, and my sense of independence is not so brittle that I think I have to carry the rigid cane to prove to myself or others that I am not ashamed to be seen with it or uncomfortable about blindness.
When I was teaching orientation classes in California and Iowa, I often said to those in attendance that students at a center tend to go through three stages: fear and insecurity, rebellious independence, and normal independence--FI, RI, and NI. During fear and insecurity one tends to be ultracautious and afraid of everything, even if at times putting on a good front. During rebellious independence one tends to be overly touchy, resenting anybody who attempts to offer him or her any kind of assistance at all, even when the assistance is appropriate and needed. In the rebellious independence stage one is likely to be a pain in the neck, both to himself or herself and others--but this is a necessary step on the road from fear and insecurity to normal independence. Unfortunately some people never get beyond it.
Hopefully one will eventually arrive at the stage of normal independence, with relatively little need constantly to prove either to oneself or others that one is capable of independence and first-class citizenship. This means maturity in dealing with condescending treatment, and it also means flexibility in accepting or rejecting offers of assistance, kindness, or generosity. Sometimes such things should be graciously or silently taken, sometimes endured, and sometimes rejected out of hand--but the reason should never be because you doubt your own worth, have inner feelings of insecurity, or wonder whether you are inferior because of blindness.
Normal independence also means not rationalizing your fear or inability by saying that you are just doing what is convenient and efficient and that you don't feel the need to prove something when in reality you are just covering up the fact that you are as helpless as a baby--and it means not going so far the other way and being so touchy about your so-called independence that nobody can stand to be around you. It means getting to the place where you are comfortable enough with yourself and secure enough with your own inner feelings that you don't have to spend much time bothering about the matter one way or another. It means reducing blindness to the level of a mere inconvenience and making it just one more of your everyday characteristics--a characteristic with which you must deal just as you do with how strong you are, how old you are, how smart you are, how personable you are, and how much money you have. These are the goals, and probably none of us ever achieves all of them all of the time. Nevertheless, we are making tremendous progress--and we are farther along the road now than we have ever been.
I am pleased that you wrote me, and I am especially pleased that you are able to receive training at the Louisiana Center. It is grounded in Federation philosophy, and it is one of the best. You are getting the chance while you are young to learn what blindness is really like, and what it isn't like. You have the opportunity to profit from the collective experience of all of us--the things we tried that didn't work, and those that did. On the foundation of love and organizational structure which we have established, you can make for yourselves better opportunities than we have ever known--and I pray that you will. The future is in the hands of your generation, and I hope you will dream and work and build wisely and well.
That is what I wrote, and there have been a number of subsequent developments. One person, hearing these letters, said, “I can see your point, but don't you think you should try to be a role model?”
To which I replied, “I thought that was what I was doing.”
Then, there was the letter I got about a month ago from a person who attended a seminar at the National Center for the Blind last Christmas. She said in part:
The discussion about the letter from the students at the Louisiana Center for the Blind has stuck with me and helped me in two ways. I no longer feel the deep embarrassment I had been experiencing about being unable to read Braille and having less-than-perfect travel skills. I remain painfully aware that I could be much more efficient than I am, particularly if I could read and write Braille, but I no longer feel that I am less worthy because of the lack. And, by the way, I hope to take care of my deficiencies in that area soon.
The discussion also helped me better to appreciate and respect my dad, who was blinded by an on-the-job accident when he was twenty-six.
After he became blind, he went to law school, and I have always admired his
relatively quick adjustment to blindness. On the other hand, I have always felt
somewhat embarrassed that when traveling he uses a sighted guide the majority
of the time. (For instance, I was horrified and disbelieving when I heard my
dad flew to Alaska by himself to go fishing without his guide dog or a white
cane!) He has a guide dog but only used him when he was going to work. I have
never seen him use a white cane although I have just learned that he used one
while in his office at work. However, the seminar discussion helped me to understand
that everyone's situation differs and that the opportunities available are not
uniform. My dad has accomplished a lot: He was an administrative law judge until
he retired last month; he is an avid fisherman; and he is as pro-Braille as
anybody I have ever met.
That is what the seminarian wrote me, and her letter makes a point. It is simply this: We absolutely must not become so rigid and dogmatic about the means and precise details of achieving independence that we make ourselves and everybody else around us miserable. Down that road lies bigotry, as well as the loss of any real independence or true normality.
Usually when I go to bed at night, I read myself to sleep with a recorded book. A few months ago somebody took me to task for this. The person said something to this effect: “You should not read recorded books. You should use Braille. After all, the Federation advocates Braille literacy, and if you use tapes and talking books, you decrease the circulation of Braille from the libraries, and you also set a bad example. What kind of statement are you making? What kind of image are you creating? You have an obligation to serve as a role model.”
I didn't argue with the person. It wouldn't have done any good. Yes, I use Braille; and as you know, I find it helpful. More than that. My life would be poorer without it. But Braille is a means. It is a vehicle, not an article of faith. I am conscious of the fact that I have an obligation to be a role model, and I do the best I can to meet the requirement. But the kind of role model I want to be (for anybody who cares to see me that way) is that of a competent, well-balanced human being, not a caricature. The fact that I don't want to die of thirst doesn't mean that I want to drown.
What is independence? I would define it this way. With respect to reading, it means getting the information you want with a minimum amount of inconvenience and expense. For me that means Braille, but it also means using live readers, recordings, and (despite my limited competence in that area) a certain amount of work with computers. For somebody else the combination may be different, but any active blind person who lacks skill in Braille will be limited--not necessarily unable to compete but definitely limited.
As to travel, independence is the ability to go where you want when you want without inconvenience to yourself or others. Probably none of us (blind or sighted) ever fully achieves that goal all of the time--and almost all of us achieve at least some of it some of the time. Usually we are on a continuum.
If I could not travel by myself without discomfort or great expense, there are times when it would be a real problem. What about the trip I made to Kansas City in May of this year to meet with local Federationists and speak at a JOB seminar? My wife had other things to do, and it would have been inconvenient to take somebody else. I went alone. Did I have any assistance during the trip? Yes. At times--when it was convenient for me and not inconvenient to others.
What about the time last month when I was called for jury duty? It would have been very difficult for a guide to have accompanied me to the jury box or the jury room--so, of course, I went by myself. Does that mean that nobody showed me where the jury box was or gave other assistance? No. It means that I went where I needed to go without inconvenience to me or those around me. That is what I call independence.
Just as with the sighted, there are times when you as a blind person want privacy--want to go somewhere (to see a boyfriend or girlfriend, for instance) without being accompanied by your daily associates, want to buy a present for a friend or a loved one, or just feel like following a whim. In such cases a dog or a cane is helpful. On the other hand, there are times when the assistance of a sighted person is extremely beneficial. Taken by itself, the use or lack of use of a sighted guide has very little, if anything at all, to do with real independence. In fact, the whole notion of independence (not just in mobility but also in everything else) involves the concept of doing what you want when you want, and doing it without paying such a heavy price (either monetarily or otherwise) that the thing is hardly worth having once you get it or do it.
In conclusion, I say to each member of this organization: Hold your head high in the joy of accomplishment and the pride of independence--but not because of dog or cane or human arm, and not because of your ability to read Braille or use a computer. These are the trappings of independence, not the substance of it. They should be learned, and used when needed--but they should be regarded only as means, not ends. Our independence comes from within. A slave can have keen eyesight, excellent mobility, and superb reading skills--and still be a slave. We are achieving freedom and independence in the only way that really counts--in rising self-respect, growing self-confidence, and the will and the ability to make choices. Above all, independence means choices, and the power to make those choices stick. We are getting that power, and we intend to have more of it. That is why we have organized. That is why we have the National Federation of the Blind. We know where we are going, and we know how to get there. Let anybody who doubts it put us to the test. My brothers and my sisters, the future is ours! Let us meet it with joy; let us meet it with hope; and (most important of all) let us meet it together!
by Cortney Osolinski
Editor's Note: Cortney Osolinski wrote the following letter to the editor of the Braille Monitor shortly before her eleventh birthday in 1996. It and the article she enclosed were included in the July, 1996, issue of the Braille Monitor and they are reprinted below. Since many would be curious as to what Cortney is up to now, Future Reflections contacted her mother and learned that she is in her third year at Georgian Court University in Lakewood, New Jersey. She happily conveys the evolution of her experience and independence in college: in her first year, Cortney went home every weekend; however, the following year, her family had to convince her to come home even for Thanksgiving. Cortney plans to become a Braille teacher, but holds a strong passion for anthropology as well. Here is the letter and article she submitted over twelve years ago:
Vineland, New Jersey
Dear Sir or Madam,
My name is Cortney. I'm in fourth grade, and I am a member of the Garden State Chapter of the National Federation of the Blind of New Jersey. I am a writer, and I have just won a contest. My poem, “A Blind Dog,” was accepted for publication in the anthology A Celebration of Young Poets.
I want to be a paleontologist and a dog trainer. I have three ribbons and several awards from horse-riding competitions. I play the violin (“Ode to Joy” is my favorite), and I have a yellow belt in Karate.
My favorite thing to do is go to NFB conventions. I get my own key to our room, all my best friends are there, and I don't have to go to bed at 9:00 p.m. There is a lot of Braille to read, and I always have a party in my room with no adults.
I hope you like my article, “Almost 101 Ways to Decorate Your Cane.”
I would like to share with all my NFB friends some of my ideas on how I decorate my cane, but first let me tell you why I decorate it: for holidays, sports events, parties, and just for fun! I love my cane now. I didn't when I was little, but now I think even my sighted friends wish they had one. In fact, some of my ideas came from them. They're always telling me what they would do if they had one.
I disguise my cane at Halloween so it will not give me away, and it really adds to my costume. Last year I won second prize in a contest. I would have won first, but I didn't have my plastic bananas in time. I was a gorilla, and my cane was covered with fake green vine. No one knew it was me, and some of the little kids thought I was a real ape! In the parade I stopped and pounded on my chest every few feet and made gorilla calls.
My mom said I have to include her rules for me when I decorate my cane so:
1. Keep the handle clear so I still have a good grip.
2. I can't go outside at night with my cane covered in dark colors.
3. I have to use my old cane or not damage my good one.
4. Only do to my cane what I know is safe (and fun).
--I'll start with Christmas because everyone loved my “candy cane,” and it was my NFB chapter president, Ms. Ever Lee Hairston, who said I should share my ideas with Braille Monitor readers.
The Candy Cane: Start at one end and wrap with red garland or ribbon, leaving
one-inch spaces all the way up. It looks great like that, but you can add a
piece of curved styrofoam and wrap it too. You can put a big red bow right where
you taped the styrofoam on.
Lights Alive: Spiral-wrap a battery-operated string of about twenty lights the whole length of your cane. This one's great at night, and all my friends want a turn holding it!
Are You Listening: Tie bells near the handle. Mom likes this one when we're in a hurry because everyone hears me coming and steps out of my way. We can even run through the mall.
O Tannenbaum: Cover your cane with green shiny paper. Add garland and little silk or plastic balls all over it. I think I'll ask Santa to put presents around it too. He is blind, you know.
Christmas Flowers: Tie fresh or fake poinsettias near the handle of your cane.
Frosty: Cover your cane with white cotton. Put a little plastic top hat just under the handle, button eyes, and a paper carrot nose.
Yummy Cane: Tape mini candy canes or any wrapped Christmas candy all over your cane. This is my favorite.
Shepherd's Staff: This is for when you're in a school, church, or club play. You can be a shepherd when you go Christmas caroling.
--New Year is next:
Celebrate: Tape a “Happy New Year” banner lengthwise down your cane.
Party Animal: Dangle streamers of many colors all over your cane.
Numbers: Tape the number of the New Year once or all over your cane.
--Super Bowl Sunday, or any sports event:
Pigskins: Tape brown cut-out footballs to dangle from your cane.
Home Team: Wrap your cane in your team colors.
Cheers: Tape a shaker or pompom near the handle.
Mascot: Hang a stuffed animal or picture of a team mascot on your cane.
Hokey Hockey: Cut out the club part of a hockey stick and tape it onto the bottom of your cane.
--Now some things for Valentine's Day:
Cupid's Arrow: Put feathers at the top and a cut out paper arrow point near
Love and Kisses: Cover your cane with red hearts and Hershey's Kisses.
Love Stinks: Dangle a paper cutout of a skunk and red hearts from your cane.
Wrapped With Love: Wrap your cane from top to bottom with red foil heart garland.
That Someone Special: Dangle the picture or the name of your Valentine from the cord or handle of your cane.
--Next is St. Patrick's Day:
Luck of the Irish: Make a giant shamrock by wrapping your cane with green paper
and cut out four leaves to tape just under the handle.
Top of the Mornin': Put a paper Leprechaun near the top of your cane, colored paper going down the length like a rainbow, and a paper picture of a pot of gold near the tip.
Kiss Me, I'm Irish: (mom's favorite) Put a “Kiss me, I'm Irish” pin on your cane, shirt, coat, hat, or socks.
Shamrock Special: Cover your cane with shiny shamrock stickers.
Glowing Green: Remember at Christmas to get extra green lights and use a battery-powered string of twenty lights to wrap your cane.
--Next is Easter:
The Egg Hunt: Wrap string around green Easter grass covering your cane. Then
glue little plastic eggs in.
Peter Cotton Tail: Glue or tape lots of colored cotton balls all over your cane.
Jesus Died For Me: Cut white paper to make your cane into a cross and tape it on. Braille and print your favorite Easter verse across the cross.
Haul a Nail: Tape a nail on your cane as a reminder.
Tastiest: Tape covered chocolate Easter eggs all over your cane.
--Fourth of July and the National Convention:
Star Spangled Banner: Tape red ribbon stripes around your cane, leaving room
for blue star stickers in between.
Flag Pole: Tie a small flag near the top of your cane.
--Okay, now for my favorite: Halloween. Make your cane into something that goes with your costume like:
French Maid: Create a feather duster on your cane.
Cheerleader: Tie a pompom or shaker to your cane.
Jail Bird: Attach a black painted styrofoam ball and chain to your cane.
Witch: Make your cane into a broom stick.
Indian: Your cane can be a totem pole.
Barber: Turn your cane into a barber's pole.
Baby: Make it a lollypop.
Queen or Fairy: Do some magic of your own and make a magic wand.
Devil: Make a pitchfork.
Native: A spear.
Tarzan, ape, or dinosaur: Wrap your cane with fake green vine.
Stranded Island Survivor: Your cane can become a palm tree.
Farmer: It's a hoe.
Clown: Make it a leash and add a paper dog.
King: Make a scepter.
Fisherman: It becomes a fishing pole.
Mummy or Grave Digger: It can be a shovel.
Bride: Attach a bouquet of flowers and a draped veil.
Bunny: Turn your cane into a giant carrot.
Cave Man or Dog: Make it a big white bone.
Accident Victim: It can become a crutch.
Really Bad Accident Victim: Tape a small plastic baggie with ketchup at the top of your cane; then tape one end of a red shoe-string licorice whip to the bag and the other end to your arm. It's an IV pole.
Band Leader: It can be a baton.
Sailor: It can be a lighthouse. Use a little flashlight on the top.
Cave Man: Make it a club.
G.I. Joe: You can make a rifle.
Henry the Eighth: Turn your cane into a turkey leg.
Bo Peep: Make the Christmas candy cane without the stripe.
Casper: Turn your cane into Uncle Stretch.
Scarecrow: The cane becomes a skinny bail of hay.
Hawaiian: Cover it with flowers.
In the Fall you can make your cane into a big sunflower. When I was little, my mom always put something on the cord of my cane to keep my hands busy, like snap-together beads or toy chain links. She says that if she had a cane, she would put a stress ball on it. You could put Rosary beads or a picture of your children or family on it. I think that my mom's best idea is getting the plastic eyes you can buy at the craft store for making stuffed animals and taping them near the tip of your cane. I think it helps new kids I meet and even adults understand what a cane is. It explains itself this way and saves me from having to try.
I always have lots of fun with my cane. I love my cane. And since we'll be together for a long time, I plan on having lots more fun with it. I hope you do too. Look for my next article on “One Hundred and One Inventions” to help me and other blind people, like a cane/umbrella and a toothbrush whose handle holds the toothpaste--just one pump, wet, and you're set. Well, I don't want to give too much away.
You think that I'm insane
Because I love my cane?
It might just bring me fame.
See, now even you know my name.
by Kate Chamberlin and Illustrated by Dot Yoder
©1997, Jason and Nordic Publishers
Review by Peggy Chong
Reprinted from Future Reflections Volume 19, Number 2.
Heather is a blind girl who is going on a family camping vacation with her new pet, Crackers, a puppy. Heather does not want to take her cane on the trip. She thinks it is stupid. But Mom brings the cane along anyway.
Heather’s mother tries to convince Heather to use her cane, reminding Heather that Crackers is just the family puppy, not a trained guide dog. But Heather, who has been to the camp many times, believes that she can find her way around the camp just fine without her cane.
The first night, after everyone is in bed, Heather has to take the new puppy out into the rain. Heather decides, since she has to go out anyway, to go up the path to the bathrooms. She does not take her “stupid” cane. While Heather is in the bathroom, Crackers runs away. Heather sets out to search for him. She remembers he loved going to the pond earlier that day, so she heads down the path toward the pond.
Heather tries to use all the other alternative travel techniques she has learned from her travel teacher. She listens for the sounds of her puppy, and finds the path to the pond by the smell of the pine trees. But she has a difficult time finding her way and is soon frustrated. First, she steps in a mud puddle, then she trips over a hump of grass, and then she falls over a rock and hurts her hands. Heather begins to wish for her cane back at camp.
She finally reaches the pond and steps in at the edge. She calls again for Crackers. She hears Crackers, but he will not come. When Heather finally finds him, she discovers that Crackers’s leash has gotten tangled with a log. Heather frees her puppy, and they both turn to walk back. But Heather trips again and falls to her knees. Under her fingers, she finds a long stick. Heather happily picks up the long stick and makes her way quickly and safely back to the cabin.
This delightful little thirty-two-page story for young children has print and Braille text with color illustrations. It is not only a wonderful story for kids, but I also think it might be a great story for many blind adults who are struggling with the idea of carrying a cane. Orientation and mobility instructors should find the book useful as a way to introduce discussions about the cane to their students.
Editor’s Note: This gem of a book is available from BarnesandNoble.com for $8.95.
by Barbara Pierce
Editor’s Note: This is an issue that impacts every blind child’s present and future opportunities for independent travel. We urge you to get informed, and then get involved: look for continuing updates about the progress of the resolution of the quiet car problem on the NFB Web site at <www.nfb.org>, contact your NFB state affiliate and ask how you can help, discuss it within your family, and tell your neighbors and friends about it.
Let me go on record as one of those who do not think that Al Gore is a nut. Bob and I are quite consciously doing more walking, trying not to waste water, replacing light bulbs with energy-saving ones, and keeping the thermostat turned further down and wearing sweaters in the house. I suspect that the next car we buy will be a hybrid because we think it is up to everyone to conserve oil and try to reduce the amount of carbon dioxide released into the air.
That said, I also confess some nervousness at the prospect of owning a car that makes little or no noise when traveling at twenty-five miles an hour or less--that is, when it is operating on battery rather than using its internal combustion engine. If you have not consciously had a close encounter with a hybrid car, you are in for an unpleasant surprise. I have been a part of experiments to determine how close a moving hybrid car can come to expectant pedestrians without the blind people’s hearing its approach. Even in a quiet area with little or no other traffic, the answer is that the Toyota Prius was on top of us every time before most of us guessed that it was present at all. The Honda Civic was a bit easier to hear in a very quiet area, but it too would have been unnoticeable with a background of normal city noise. Hybrids really are stealth vehicles.
Having a growing percentage of the cars on the road starting, idling, accelerating, and traveling in city traffic in virtual silence constitutes a significant safety problem for all pedestrians. The difference between blind pedestrians and the rest of the walking and cycling population is that we already recognize the danger. So far most other people are unaware of what can happen. Blind people recognize that we depend on our hearing to tell us when it is safe to cross streets and whether a car is moving toward us in a parking lot or driveway. Very gradually members of the general public are becoming aware that the increasing numbers of hybrid cars mean trouble in River City. Hybrid drivers have begun to comment that pedestrians are much dumber than they used to be, walking out in front of their cars or stepping into their path when they are backing up. It has not yet occurred to most of these drivers that, without the warning cue of engine noise, the people they are complaining about have just not looked in the correct direction to spot them. Sighted pedestrians are also beginning to report near misses or so-far insignificant accidents in which hybrids have bumped them or run over a foot before the walker realized that a car was there at all. Sleeping pets that did not wake in time to scramble out of the way have been run over in driveways by hybrid owners who didn’t see them lying there.
All these facts have resulted in the NFB’s increasingly energetic efforts to bell the cat, as it were. Nearly four years ago President Maurer appointed a Committee on Automobile and Pedestrian Safety (CAPS). Debbie Kent Stein chairs the committee, and I serve on it. At first, when we managed to catch the attention of the auto makers however briefly, they refused to take us seriously, accusing us of not caring about the environment. They maintained that any added sound cue, which they labeled noise pollution, would be as unacceptable to the public as any other sort of pollution, and they suggested by implication that the loss of a few blind people who refused to accept the inevitable was a small price to pay for a quieter, less polluted world.
The truth is that we are not asking that hybrids shatter the calm of the neighborhood with NASCAR-racing-level noise. In fact, we have not put forward any specific demand about adding sound to hybrids. We have suggested that pedestrians--all pedestrians--are used to listening to traffic sounds as a cue to when it is safe to cross traffic lanes. So it seems logical to us that speakers mounted on the front fenders broadcasting the sound of an engine idling, accelerating, traveling at traffic speed, or braking (actually reflecting what the hybrid is doing) would be useful to all walkers and add very little volume to the ambient noise. All internal combustion engines are getting quieter, so it would not require much volume for a hybrid motor to become audible to most people. When trials were held at the NFB of California convention this past fall, people driving hybrid cars with speakers mounted on their fenders could hardly hear the sound they were projecting forward--even though no effort had been made to soundproof their vehicles.
In the past year we have managed to attract some media attention to this problem, and gradually the auto makers are beginning to realize that it may need to be addressed. A recent hopeful development is a series of ongoing meetings between representatives of the National Federation of the Blind and the Alliance of Auto Manufacturers. But there are many important and difficult questions that must be addressed. A solution will cost some money, even if the cost per vehicle is actually very small. Who should start the ball rolling: the Environmental Protection Agency, the National Highway Administration, the insurance industry, Congress, the international regulatory bodies? Who should do the research? Who will pay for it?
One approach is to introduce model legislation in various state legislatures in the hope that we can persuade state law-makers to listen to our concerns and take some action at the state level. We have written model legislation, and that is one strategy we will pursue. Maryland passed a bill that created a task force to study potential solutions to the silent vehicle problem in the 2008 legislative session. Of course, a national solution holds more promise and we’ve been doing our work on that front, too. On April 9, Representatives Edolphus “Ed” Towns (New York) and Cliff Stearns (Florida) introduced The Pedestrian Safety Enhancement Act of 2008, HR57-34. This bill requires the Secretary of Transportation to conduct a study on how to protect the blind and others from being injured or killed by vehicles using hybrid, electric, and other silent engine technologies. The bill also requires that upon completion of the study, the Secretary will report the findings of the study to Congress and, within ninety days, establish a minimum vehicle safety standard for all new vehicles sold in the United States.
We have much work left to do, but we are certainly further along in convincing the public, auto manufacturers, and legislators that the problem of silent cars for blind people and other pedestrians is very real indeed.
Please note that this list is not meant to be a comprehensive list, but instead reflects the cane travel (O&M) and blindness resources that we believe to be deeply rooted in the consumer experience.
NFB Training Centers
BLIND, Inc. (Blindness: Learning in New Dimensions, Incorporated)
Shawn Mayo, Director
100 East 22nd Street South
Minneapolis, Minnesota 55404
Phone: (612) 872-0100
Toll-Free: (800) 597-9558
Fax: (612) 872-9358
Web site: <www.blindinc.org>
Colorado Center for the Blind
Julie Deden, Director
2233 West Shepperd Avenue
Littleton, Colorado 80120
Phone: (303) 778-1130
Toll-Free: (800) 401-4632
Fax: (303) 778-1598
Web site: <www.cocenter.org>
Louisiana Center for the Blind
Pam Allen, Director
101 South Trenton Street
Ruston, Louisiana 71270
Phone: (318) 251-2891
Toll-Free: (800) 234-4166
Web site: <www.lcb-ruston.com>
NFB Independence Market
The NFB Independence Market offers blindness-related products and publications as a service of the Jacobus tenBroek Library. From canes to writing supplies—the Independence Market has many items to help increase independence and aid in carrying out life’s daily activities. Shoppers may search an online store or call for more information.
1800 Johnson Street
Baltimore, Maryland 21230
Phone: (410) 659-9314, extension 2216
Fax: (410) 685-2340
Web site: <www.nfb.org/nfb/Independence_Market.asp>
Publications and other Media
All publications and media are available through the NFB Independence Market unless otherwise noted.
Independent Movement and Travel in Blind Children: A Promotion Model
by Joe Cutter
Copyright 2007 IAP--Information Age Publishing, Inc. ISBN 13: 978-1-59311-603-3 (paperback) ISBN 978-1-59311-604-0 (hardcover) 331 pages, large print font, black and white photos. Hardback and paperback editions are available for purchase from IAP at <www.infoagepub.com> (search by author, Cutter).
Rather than dwelling on the effect of blindness on movement, in his book, Joe Cutter focuses on the effect of movement on development, and the importance of movement experiences for the development of blind children. “This is more than a book about cane techniques and teaching strategies (although there is enough of that to satisfy the most detail-oriented parent or instructor), it is a guide that lays out a whole new way to think about and approach the facilitating of normal--yes, normal--movement and independence in young blind children.” –Barbara Cheadle, president of the National Organization of Parents of Blind Children and editor of Future Reflections.
The Care and Feeding of the Long White Cane
by Tom Bickford
Copyright 1993 National Federation of the Blind
In this easy-to-read self-help guide, the author draws upon personal experiences as a blind traveler and former mobility instructor to tear down the myths and fears about independent travel. “To become an independent traveler,” he tells the reader, “you must 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.”
Handbook for Itinerant and Resource Teachers of Blind and Visually Impaired
by Doris Willoughby and Sharon (Duffy) Monthei
Copyright 1989 National Federation of the Blind
A comprehensive handbook on the innumerable objectives and tasks involved in the education of blind children of all ages. “Willoughby and Duffy offer anecdotes, both positive and negative, that should save every reader from at least one mistake. Their clear directions and repertoire of ideas for each of the subjects covered will be of help even to the experienced teacher.” –Lorraine Rovig, librarian. NOTE: This important handbook is available directly from the NOPBC free of charge. The handbook is available on two-track cassette (five tapes in a set), in Braille (eight volumes), and in regular print (533 pages). When ordering the print version, please note that the NOPBC does request a donation to help defray the cost of shipping. Checks should be made payable to NOPBC and mailed to NOPBC Free Offer, 1800 Johnson Street, Baltimore, Maryland 21230. To order either the Braille or two-track cassette versions, simply call (410) 659-9314, extension 2361, or e-mail <ParentOutreach@nfb.org>.
Modular Instruction for Independent Travel for Students Who Are Blind or
Visually Impaired by Doris Willoughby and Sharon Monthei
Copyright 1999 National Federation of the Blind
A flexible, practical guide for teaching cane travel to students of preschool age through high school. Between them, the authors have a wide variety of experiences with students of all ages and abilities. “[Willoughby and Monthei] have created an extremely teacher-friendly book that will be used extensively by teachers and parents to benefit blind children.” –Dr. Phil Hatlen, Superintendent, Texas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired
Techniques Used by Blind Cane Travel Instructors: A Practical Approach:
Learning, Teaching, Believing
by Maria Morais, Paul Lorensen, Roland Allen, Edward C. Bell, Arlene Hill, and Eric Woods
Copyright 1997 National Federation of the Blind
The purpose of this text, as described by its authors, is to describe some of the techniques employed by the authors as blind cane travel instructors. “Our approach is fundamentally based upon the belief that techniques used by sighted teachers and the alternative techniques which we use are equally effective and that ours are in no way inferior. This work is offered as a first step toward understanding the teaching methods that we who are blind professionals employ.”
“White Canes for Blind Kids” DVD
A twelve-minute DVD demonstrating how the use of the white cane can transform the lives of blind children. The film was shot at a NFB National Convention, and it contains footage of cane instruction with children of all ages as well as parent interviews. While available to order from the NFB Independence Market, the film is also available online at <www.nfb.org/nfb/NOPBC_Videos.asp>.
“It’s OK to be Blind” DVD
“It’s OK to be Blind,” produced by a volunteer member of the NOPBC, Myra Lesser, consists of scenes from the 1995 NFB convention. In the film, parents and blind students at the convention talk about how the NFB, and especially the NFB convention, has changed their lives. Families tell how informative workshops taught them the concrete skills blind people need to succeed. The film is fourteen minutes in length and is narrated by Myra Lesser and Jim Omvig.
Recommended Future Reflections Articles
The following articles can be found online at <www.nfb.org/nfb/Future_Reflections.asp>.
Volume 3, Number 2: “Cane Travel”
Volume 3, Number 2: “Canes and Blind Preschoolers”
Volume 10, Number 2: “Canes and Preschoolers the Eight-Year Revolution” by Barbara Cheadle
Volume 10, Number 2: “A Cane in Our Lives” by Carol Castellano
Volume 10, Number 2: “Orientation: What Is Your Role?” by Eileen Rivera
Volume 12, Number 2: “O&M: A Process Toward Independence” by Joe Cutter
Volume 16, Number 1: “These Canes Are History” by Patrick Barrett
Volume 19, Number 2: “Reflections on My Childhood Mobility Experiences” by Paul Gabias, PhD
Volume 23, Number 2: “Parents: Blind Children’s First Mobility Teachers” by Joe Cutter
Volume 23, Number 4: “Stepping Out” by Connie Bernard
Volume 24, Number 3: “I’m Partially Sighted, and I Use a White Cane” by Peggy Chong
Volume 26, Number 1: “The Teaching Cane” by Mary Jo Thorpe, NOMC
Recommended Braille Monitor Articles
The following articles can be found online at <www.nfb.org/nfb/Braille_Monitor.asp>.
March 1996: “Wheels and White Canes Tips for Helping Blind Wheelchair Users” by Maureen Pranghofer
February 2007: “What It Means to Walk with a White Cane” by Christopher Danielsen
Professional Development and Research Institute on Blindness (PDRIB)
PDRIB is a collaborative effort between Louisiana Tech and the Louisiana Center for the Blind to fulfill two primary missions: preparing professionals to work in rehabilitation and education (equipped with innovative knowledge about blindness) and conducting research that clarifies and deepens understanding about blindness and the best practices for promoting education, employment, and independence for blind people. In carrying out these missions, the Institute on Blindness engages in three primary activities: administration of graduate programs, continuing education and service to the university and community, and research and publication of scholarly works on blindness rehabilitation and education.
Edward Bell, PhD, CRC, NOMC, Director, PDRIB
210 Woodard Hall
Ruston, Louisiana 71291
Phone: (318) 257-4554
Fax: (318) 257-2259
Web site: <www.pdrib.com>
University Training Programs
By combining the best university education and agency training techniques, the Professional Development and Research Institute on Blindness (PDRIB) at Louisiana Tech University has created three unique degree programs in collaboration that produce the most highly skilled and qualified teachers of blind children and orientation and mobility instructors. Located at the Louisiana Tech campus in Ruston, Louisiana, these programs are:
• Master of Arts in Teaching Blind Students
• Master of Science in Teaching Blind Students
• Master of Arts in Educational Psychology with a Concentration in Orientation and Mobility (O&M)
For more information about the programs contact:
Edward Bell, PhD, CRC, NOMC,
Orientation and Mobility Program Coordinator
Phone: (318) 257-4554
Ruby Ryles, PhD
Teaching Blind Students Program Coordinator
Phone: (318) 257-2028
D. Boone Consultants
Founded by Doug Boone, a certified travel instructor, D. Boone Consultants contracts with schools, state agencies, and other entities to teach travel, structured discovery learning, and healthy attitudes about blindness to their professional personnel.
Phone: (269) 372-6610
Fax: (269) 372-6640
National Blindness Professional Certification Board: National Orientation
and Mobility Certification Program
The National Blindness Professional Certification Board (NBPCB) has established rigorous standards for certifying competent professionals who teach orientation and mobility skills using Structured Discovery Cane Travel (SDCT) methods and principles. Successful applicants who earn the designation of National Orientation and Mobility Certificant (NOMC) are entitled to all rights and responsibilities therein as long as he or she maintains active certification status and upholds the NBPCB Code of Professional Ethics. The methods, principles, and practices that comprise the NBPCB certification process are derived from the Consumer-Based Model of Rehabilitation (CBMR). This model has been built from the collective knowledge, experiences, and attitudes of the organized blind who have achieved economic, social, and community integration. The NOMC process is based on the methods and principles underlying SDCT, which holds that successful blind persons must master nonvisual skills for independent living, learn problem solving strategies to confront societal and environmental ambiguities and must come to understand their own internalized attitudes--as well as public attitudes--about blindness and the effect that such attitudes have on personal expectations and aspirations.