Cane Travel Basics
Here are some basic cane travel terms and techniques to get you started using a long white cane. Or if you've been using a cane for a while, you'll find helpful hints for smoothing out your style!
Holding the Cane
I have found that placing the end of the handle into the center of the palm of my hand, wrapping fingers and thumb around the handle lightly, keeping the palm facing up and holding my hand at about waist level is the most comfortable for most situations. I tuck my elbow in, so that it presses against my side lightly. I use my elbow as an anchor to keep my cane hand in relatively the same place. This helps me to move in a straight line. I use this method outdoors and anytime that I am walking at my normal brisk pace. The cane in this position gives me about 2 to 3 steps of notice of upcoming obstacles or landmarks.
In places where I am moving more slowly, inside shops, in line at the bank, in a crowd and other places like that, I hold my cane closer and more vertical. I hold the cane handle like a pencil at about mid chest level. This gives me about 1 to 2 steps of advance notice of things coming up, which is enough in most indoor or slower pace situations.
As I get older I have more difficulty holding the cane in one position for long periods of time. Sometimes I find it more comfortable to turn my wrist a bit or switch from the indoor to the outdoor grip. Some people also switch from one hand to the other, but I don’t do much of anything very well with my left hand. As you gain experience you’ll find a technique that works for you.
The arc of the cane is how wide you swing it in front of you. A good rule of thumb is to have the cane arc slightly larger than the width of your body. If you seem to brush your shoulder or hip frequently, this is probably because you need to widen the arc a bit.
Keeping the handle in the center of your body, tapping the same distance from center on both sides will help you keep in a straight line. Keep your head up; pointing your nose where you want to go will also help keep you in a straight line. Lots of practice will help the most, though!
The basic cane travel technique is to touch the cane tip light on the left and right side as you walk along. It does seem to work more smoothly if you tap the cane on the opposite side of the foot you are stepping forward with. Confused? When you step forward with your right foot your cane tip will touch down on the left. It’s really awkward at first, but trusts me in very short order you don’t think about it all. It’s as natural as walking!
Very important!!! Remember you only go where your cane has been! Don’t step backwards or sideways unless your cane has already been there.
Shore lining is the technique used to find driveways, doorways or other places you might want to go that connect to your current path of travel. The technique is simple…As you walk down the hall or whatever; you tap the cane into the wall on the side of the hall where you are looking for the door. As you go along the cane will tap into empty hall, wall, back to empty hall, then the wall will open to a doorway and the cane will move further over than the wall permitted, into the doorway! Viola! You’ve found it!
Shore lining can also be used to count doorways, driveways, sidewalks, posts or anything else. Let’s say that you are going to a friend’s home that lives three houses down from yours. You could use the shore lining technique to count the sidewalks that lead up to the houses. It would be a pretty safe bet that the third sidewalk going toward a house would lead to your friend’s home. This isn’t the case 100% of the time. Some people may have a walkway leading to a side door or the sidewalk may be an offshoot of the driveway. Check it out, experiment, use your common sense and go visit some friends!
Something else I want to mention… bumping the cane into objects isn’t a mistake. I find it most useful when my cane contacts things. It helps me to know what’s around. It’s how I explore my environment.
Finding things with your cane can also give you reference points for the next time you visit. For example if you accidentally find that there is a mailbox on the corner where your bank is located, you can use that as a reference point next time. Even if you miscount the blocks getting there you’ll still know you’re on the right corner, when you find the mailbox!
Driveways and Streets
Again we are going to apply some common sense and logic. Think about drainage. Where will the water go when it rains?
Driveways drain to a street, so the slope of the driveway will lean toward the street. You will probably feel like one leg is longer than the other when you are walking across a driveway.
Streets drain into gutters. As you step off of a curb you will feel as you are going up, then down and finally up again on the other side. This holds true unless you are on a hill. The drainage will be different. Think about it as you are out the next time. Notice the feel of the ground under your feet as you move about.
Later on as you get more adept with cane travel you can notice hallways, doorways, parked cars, telephone poles, buildings, trees and a whole load of other stuff by the change in sound. No, trees and hallways don’t make sounds. What they do is funnel sounds differently. You can hear people talking more clearly, or feel a draft of air from a hallway that leads outside. That sort of thing. It’s not magic, just paying attention! Check out this page for some more cane use ideas: