I started using a cane in 1961, when I enrolled in a travel training program at the old Halifax School for the Blind. For two school years the travel training was under the tutelage of social workers. My first instructor, Mr. Leclerc was a fine instructor, and I looked forward to the weekly sessions, as did the other members of the group. It did not take me long to get confident to travel independently with my cane. I remember one instruction Mr. Leclerc gave us and that was never to slide the cane along while walking. As he put it, “Never use the cane as a pirogue, but as a bumper.” The first year’s instruction began in January and went to the end of April. I was in Grade Eight at the time. At the end of the school year prizes were awarded for travel training.
The following year our training began near Christmas and our instructor this time was the late Norman Doucette, also a social worker. As was the case with the first year, this period went to the end of April. I well remember one Saturday afternoon when the group went out on an exercise with Mr. Doucette as our instructor. As a reward he treated us to a snack at a restaurant.
I continued to put what I had learned into practice by taking my cane and walking around my neighborhood. This first cane lasted me a little better than three years. One afternoon, after completing a walk, when I tried to fold up my cane, the elastic gave way and I had to replace the cane. I have lost count of the number of canes I have used over the years, but my present cane is still standing up to a lot of wear and tear. I got it for Christmas about seven years ago and it continues to serve me well. I had the ball replaced last fall and I wouldn’t be without it. Even when I go to the property office or somewhere else in the building, my trusty cane always accompanies me.
In 1991, through BALANCE, I embarked on more instruction. The term “travel training”, by this time, had been replaced by “orientation and mobility”. I was working as a medical typist at Sunnybrook Hospital at the time. Let me backtrack here for just a moment if I might. When I came to Toronto from Halifax to embark on my Dictaphone course in 1976, travel training or orientation and mobility, call it what you will, was an integral part of the program and I picked up a great many invaluable pointers. However, in certain situations, there can be challenges to good use of the cane. One of the most significant challenges occurs when there is deep snow. If the snow is very deep after a storm, the use of the cane becomes very limited, if not impossible in some situations. The instructors at BALANCE taught me a technique they call “shorelining.” This involves arcing the cane from side to side so the cane, not the body, will meet objects in one’s path. The touch and drag technique was also a part of their instructional program, involving sliding the cane to the left (if the cane is in the right hand, as is the case with me). This way the traveler discovers grass or an open driveway.
Happy white cane travels!
IMAGE ALT TEXT: image of a narrow street with buildings on each side.