My First Mobility Lessons Learning to Use A White Cane

Editor’s note: This is our third post this week in our series celebrating White Cane Day and what it means. Be sure to go back and read Using a White Cane Gives Me Confidence and Safety and How I Accepted the White Cane. Tomorrow we will have one more post from a guest blogger to honor this important day.

My Life with Blindness

My life with blindness began in my mid-twenties. I had no idea what to expect. I had been blind for about a month when my orientation and mobility (O&M), instructor, Jeff Elliott, came to see me for the first time. As he described the skills he could teach me I felt myself being drawn in. He spoke with such confidence and conviction.

First Lesson–Human Guide Techniques

That first lesson Jeff taught my parents and me human guide techniques. While blindness seemed uncharted territory to us, Jeff’s matter-of-fact, no-nonsense approach enabled us to relax and concentrate on the skills he was teaching. I was enthralled. This was cool. I concentrated so hard that night that, when Jeff said that two hours had passed and we’d better stop there, I couldn’t believe it. For the first time since becoming blind my focus had moved away from what I had lost and onto what I needed to do in order to move forward into my new life.

Getting My First Cane

Sue Martin crossing street with cane

During the lesson when Jeff gave me my first cane, I took it in my hands and thought, “When I learn to use this cane it’s going to be my means of independent mobility.” And so we began. Jeff showed me how to grip the cane. He positioned my hand so that it was in the center of my body with the cane pointing down at a 45 degree angle. Before I ever took a step he placed one hand on my shoulder and, with the other hand on the hand with which I held the cane, he showed me the correct arc to swing the cane. Then he explained about keeping in step. It was a lot to remember!

My First Independent Step

Then I took the first independent step into my new world. Over and over again I walked up and down in a big room with Jeff encouraging and correcting as I went. When he told me to stop I did so. “You’re not in step,” he said.

Not in Step

Not in step? What did that mean? Which part of this cane travel deal was he referring to? Patiently, Jeff told me to take a step forward with my right foot while tapping my cane on the left side. Then he told me to stop. He explained that I had just tapped my cane where my next footfall was going to land and, as long as that spot was clear of obstacles, I knew I could continue my forward motion.

Walking Independently for the First Time

Over and over again I walked up and down, back and forth, growing more comfortable with each pass. Finally Jeff took me out in the hallway and told me to go for it. And I did. For the first time in weeks I was walking independently. Concentrating hard on keeping my hand centered, swinging the cane the correct arc, and staying in step, I was drawn up short when, Wham, the tip of the cane collided with the wall at the end of the hallway.

The Moment I Knew I Could Travel Independently

I screeched to a halt. It worked! Whether Jeff planned it or it happened completely spontaneously, that was the moment at which I knew, I knew that I could learn to travel independently with a cane. It was at that precise moment that I moved into my new life with blindness. The thrill of new learning settled over me like a benediction.

I had months of learning ahead of me. I also had the whole emotional adjustment to new blindness to deal with. For me, the new learning, the feelings of mastery, these are what made all the difference. As my competence increased with the new skills I learned, so did my confidence. As my confidence grew I found my self-concept shifting. In those early days my self-concept was that of a damaged version of my sighted self. Blind Rehabilitation, and in particular, O&M training, helped me develop the self-concept of a whole and complete person who happened to be blind.

For more about Sue’s adventures in mobility, be sure to read It’s Cane Cuttin’ Time.

And for the whole story of her life, be sure to read Out of the Whirlpool.