You may have seen a recent video that has been popping up online, a little 4-year-old boy who is blind or visually impaired learning to use his cane. The little boy is learning to find the curb and step down.
The white cane is a tool used by people who are blind or visually impaired to help travel independently. People who are blind or visually impaired are taught to use a white cane; it doesn’t just happen or grow out their hand like an X-Men character. (That might be cool if it did. Think, “Extend white cane, wham!” I threw in the sound effect for your entertainment.)
My twin brother messaged me about this video; he thought it was awesome. As my brother has a little boy about the same age, he loved this video because hadn’t thought about little kids learning to use a cane. He said the video was amazing because you could see that the child was nervous, and hear his voice saying “I can do it!” And then you see him find the curb and his triumph when he manages the step down.
Most people don’t realize the training and experiences that have to happen to get the child to that point.
Little kids who are blind or visually impaired need to learn to use a white cane, just as they are learning to walk around. The white cane allows them to explore their environment and travel safely and efficiently. Orientation and Mobility, as it is called, can be broken down into those specific aspects.
The orientation part is learning the skills to track and know where you are in the environment. This includes mental mapping, which is just that, mentally mapping out an environment in your mind. The fact is we all use mental mapping, but people who are blind or visually impaired depend on it a lot more. A professor of mine at Florida State University, Purvis Ponder, felt that orientation made up the majority of orientation and mobility. He would typically say over 90% was mental. And, he wasn’t calling me mental. A person who is blind or visually impaired utilizes all kinds of aspects of the environment, including the sound of parallel and perpendicular traffic. Yes, it helps to know what parallel and perpendicular mean outside of Geometry class.
It doesn’t stop there, a person who is blind or visually impaired uses many of their senses to pick up on inclines, declines, consistent sounds, and even smells in their route of travel, this all could be set to remind a person that they are coming closer to a turn or a location. Yes, it is complicated, and not everyone has honed these skills. The skill level of an individual varies, just as you may not be as good at baseball as Derek Jeter (go, Yanks!).
The mobility part of orientation and mobility is learning to utilize the white cane to pick up on obstacles and barriers in your path. The white cane can be used to pick up changes in the texture of the ground. The white cane helps people find drop-offs, holes, and such: quite important.
This skill is taught by professionals trained at universities around the United States. These professionals are valuable and in shortage. We want little boys and girls such as the child in the video to be trained by professionals of the highest quality. Would you want your child taught to cross streets by someone without training? I don’t think so. Most parents are scared to let their kids outside early on, think about teaching a child who is blind or visually impaired to cross a street. It is a necessity, as we want children with vision loss to grow up to be successful members of society. That includes traveling in their community independently.
There is also a science to how long a cane is, and a couple of different ways this is determined. You will notice the kid in the video has a cane proportioned to his height, as he wouldn’t have a cane the same length as I have (56″). Typically, a white cane is up to a person’s chin or forehead, depending on their speed of travel and technique.
Children with vision loss need to be learning the skills that will provide them with independence. You can learn more about orientation and mobility in the Expanded Core Curriculum area of FamilyConnect, and also by asking Marjie Wood, a certified orientation and mobility instructor, questions on the new Orientation and Mobility Forum.