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I Carry a Big Stick

By Linda

I carry a big stick!! It just happens to be white, rigid and very long. And I refer to it as a cane, not a stick. It has been mistaken for a fishing pole, a ski pole and a support pole on the bus.


Actually, as I am totally blind, I don’t really carry it, rather I tap or sweep it from side to side depending on how familiar I am with the route and the potential hazards I am watching out for. The technique is to step forward with one foot while tapping to the opposite side, the theory being that you will discover what is on the cane side before you step forward with that foot.


About seven or eight years ago I joined the staff of the Pacific Training Centre for the Blind, then located in Victoria. As it appeared that I had reasonable cane skills, I was asked to assist with the centre’s travel training. The centre provides the students with a NFB long rigid white cane, and they learn under blindfold if they have any remaining vision. I soon found myself taking charge of the training sessions and more recently augmented the centre’s orientation and mobility training for students staying in my home.


There is often resistance to the cane at first. It is much longer than students are used to, and it doesn’t fold. But it doesn't take long before they recognize the benefits of this style of cane. First, these canes are very light and if you are going to use the tap-tap technique, it needs to be light. Secondly, they are very long, mine comes up to the top of my nose, enabling me to detect hazards that are far away. This allows me to walk faster as I have more time to react before I take out that parking pole.


So, the long white cane is the winner as far as I am concerned, although there is a place for my shorter, heavier canes which do fold. By the way, the NFB cane does come in a folding model but because of the joints, it is quite a bit heavier than the rigid style. I use the folding NFB cane when I am travelling on a long distance bus, the ferry, an airplane, or riding on a tandem or in a sportscar. OK, I only rode in a sportscar once, but I can dream! In those settings, it is convenient or often necessary to tuck it away in a small space. But for my day trips to the grocery store, pharmacy or downtown on the bus, it’s the long rigid white cane every time.


IMAGE: Two people with a guide dog and both carrying canes with a bus pulling up.


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