I started using a long white cane in September 2017. Although I was born with sight loss, it took me 28 years to realise that a long white cane was the solution to so many problems.
I used to think that canes were only for totally blind people. I thought because I was registered partially sighted, I didn’t deserve one. I could manage just fine. I only fell over sometimes right? I only bumped or people into stuff occasionally? I tripped up steps or down curbs now and then. I only got really disorientated and totally panicked once in a while…
Like many visually impaired people I’ve spoken to, my decision to use a cane was a long difficult process of self acceptance. Using a cane means that you are really accepting that you can’t see and that you do find some things difficult. Initially it felt like sticking a great big BLIND label on myself, but soon that label didn’t feel at all problematic. Embracing a mobility aid was part of embracing my disability.
Honestly, becoming a white cane user is one of the best decisions I have ever made, I wish I’d done it 10 years ago. I’m safer, happier, more confident and more open about my disability.
I use a long white cane, it’s 125 cm in length, a long cane is supposed to reach up to the middle of your chest when it’s held up against you. I’m quite short, and therefore my long cane is also on the smaller side.
Before you can use a long cane you need training. Unfortunately my local council and specialist social worker were not that forthcoming. So I reached out to Guide Dogs and their London mobility team. A lovely mobility officer called Tommy taught me all about how best to use my cane, helped me plan some routes, and gave me lots of top tips. Guide Dogs provide so many awesome services like this, and I’ll be sharing more of my training, volunteering and application process experiences with Guide Dogs on this blog.
I use a cane technique called constant contact. this means that my I sweep my cane along the ground and maintain contact at all times. This enables me to feel changes in the surface, any curbs or steps, as well as tactile paving and it finds objects that I might bump into. It also helps me to create a bit of a protective barrier so that I can take my time to navigate through a space, and anticipate how I might need to move in case of obstacles or hazards. The cane also tells people that I have a visual impairment, and indicates that they might need to move out of my way, or that I might need some assistance.
This video shows how I use my cane, and the noises it makes on different surfaces. Every surface feels different and sounds different. I can’t see uneven ground, but I can feel the cracks and edges of paving, and the indent of the curb. I am learning every day how to feel and hear the vibrations and sensations of the cane. On the rare occasions I don’t use it, like when my Other Half is guiding me, everything feels quiet, like it’s muffled or muted, I notice that my balance is worse and I feel more disorientated. My cane is like an additional sense that gives me so much more information about my environment.
It’s really surprised me how in 8 and a half months I’ve become so used to my cane, and I absolutely couldn’t imagine my life without it now. It’s a part of me.
As you can see from the video I have a roller ball tip on my cane. This is a big ceramic coated plastic ball that spins and rotates when I move it. Everyone that uses a cane likes different kinds of cane tips. Sometimes I use a marshmallow shaped tip when it’s snowy or I’m going off road a lot as it’s more grippy.
The arc of the cane swing is very important, it is supposed to be about 5 cm past the width of your shoulders. This means that you are covering the whole width of your body and just outside it for any obstacles or hazards. The swing or sweep of the cane is only supposed to be done by the movement of your wrist. The rest of your arm and shoulder remains stationary, this enables the most efficient movement, but it did mean I had to develop a whole new set of muscles. It is also important to learn how to walk in step with a long white cane. The cane swings to the left as I step forward with my right foot, and visa versa, this means that the cane is covering and checking where I’m about to step. It took a while to master, as it’s a counter intuitive movement.
I’ve started walking faster now that I use a cane which is fantastic as I was a real plodder before as I was just so frightened of falling over all the time, I took tiny shuffling steps now I’m taking bigger strides, metaphorically and physically. My mobility officer Tommy had to correct my rhythm recently as my cane sweep was too slow compared to my pace. My posture has also improved. Instead of hunched over staring at the ground trying not to trip over, I can look ahead of me!
I like to personalise and decorate my cane, it may be a mobility aid, but it’s an extension of me. I love attaching handbag charms to the elastic handle, I’m pretty obsessed with pom poms. My cane also has her own bespoke carry case made by my talented friend Angela (follow her on instagram @StickyToffeeChic). My cane does have a name, it’s a slightly nerdy name, she’s named after a sword in Lord of the Rings. Like the sword, my cane is on the short side and glows in the dark, well she reflects light. Her name is Sting.
My cane has given me so much more confidence. I feel so much safer using it, I fall over less and I feel more able to go out on my own. My cane has also helped me really connect with my disability, and find a community to share my experiences with. So of course my blog had to be named after my amazing mobility aid.
Welcome to my Cane Adventures!
Want to learn more about different types of canes and how people use them? Check out The Cane Explained videos produced by the RNIB
Follow my #CaneAdventures on Twitter and learn more about how I navigate life as a visually impaired person