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     When you think about traveling, it is a good idea to start with what
you know best.  You know a great deal about your own home: your house or
apartment.  You know the arrangement of the furniture, the shape and size
of the rooms, the location of stair steps.  If blindness were to occur
suddenly, you might move about slowly and cautiously at first.  But you
would still have the same knowledge of your surroundings.  When blindness
comes to a person, that person must use different techniques to get the
same information.  Although the techniques are different from those used
by the sighted, they are just as effective and just as easy to use.  Your
surroundings haven't changed, and you already know a lot about where you
live.  Using common sense to learn about your environment, you as a blind
person can discover what you need to know and get around efficiently and
gracefully without much trouble at all. 
     In the initial stages of blindness, family members will often want to
help you to get about in your home.  It is desirable that you learn to do
this without assistance as quickly as possible.  With a little practice
you will be able to find your way by yourself, and it will help you gain
confidence in yourself as a blind person.  All people (blind or sighted)
bump into doorways or knock their heads on open cabinet doors
occasionally.  This may be annoying, but it is nothing to get upset about.
The family pet will learn to get out of your way.  You will be obliged to
learn to manage with the other obstacles that are not able to see you
coming: the chairs, the footstools, the coffee table, and the vacuum
cleaner.  For a person who has recently become blind, the problem about
dealing with furniture in the middle of the room may seem to be a major
concern.  However, with a little experience, managing day-to-day
activities in your own home becomes a matter of routine. 
     It is often assumed that a blind person cannot go anywhere alone.
Tens of thousands of blind people travel alone every day to work, to civic
functions, to recreational facilities, and to shopping areas.  The long
white cane or the guide dog are the tools most often used for independent
     The white cane is a long, thin object usually reaching from the
ground to shoulder height.  It is often made of fiber glass, carbon fiber,
or metal.  Some people, blind or otherwise, who have trouble walking need
support canes--the sturdy waist-high kind with a hook-shaped handle on
top. These support canes are much shorter than the travel canes used by
the blind.  Both white support canes and white travel canes may be
purchased from the National Federation of the Blind. 
     Either a long white cane or a guide dog can be used to find out all
that is necessary to know about sidewalks, streets, steps, and obstacles.
When you travel as a blind person you must get information about traffic
movement by listening to it.  Inexperienced blind travelers must practice
in order to learn to use the information obtained in this way as
effectively as they used the information provided by eyesight in the past.
Traveling without vision is a new skill, but one that can easily be
learned in a few months. 
     It is not unusual for a newly blinded person to be very frightened at
the idea of walking alone on the street with only a white cane.  With
experience and practice, this fear will diminish, and you will enjoy your
new accomplishment.  If you are walking with a friend or relative, it is a
good idea to take the cane along also because you will want to get the
same information from your cane that you would when traveling alone.
Carrying your cane also gives you maximum flexibility.  You may want to
split up for a time from your friends and meet again later. 
     When the cane is being used during travel it should be long enough
that the tip rests on the ground a step and a half or two steps in front
of you when you hold the handle slightly above your waist at the center of
your body.  The handle of the cane should remain centered in front of you
and should be held with your hand cupped beneath it and your fingers
grasping it.  The tip of your cane should be swung back and forth from one
side of your body to the other, using wrist motion to move it.  Your arm
should not move back and forth.  This enables you to protect yourself from
obstacles in front and on both sides of you.  It also gives you needed
information about steps and obstacles in time to make use of it. 
     Generally, it is desirable for you to tap the cane each time you take
a step.  As you step with your right foot, tap your cane on the left-hand
side of the path that you intend to travel about two inches farther out
than your left shoulder will go.  As the left foot moves forward, move
your cane to the right.  This motion becomes automatic, and with practice
you will react instantly and easily to information supplied by the cane. 
     The technique for traveling with a white cane is simple and can be
learned in a few minutes.  You should tailor your use of the cane to the
situation at hand.  For example, in a crowd you will want to keep the cane
closer to your body to avoid tripping people ahead of you.  When climbing
up steps, you will probably want to hold your cane vertically, letting the
tip bump the step ahead of you.  At these times you will want to hold the
cane at a point below its handle because the cane is too long to grasp its
top.  When the cane does not bump a step, you will know you have reached
the top of the flight of steps.  Similarly, you will probably wish to let
the tip of the cane touch each step ahead of you as you descend a flight
of steps.  You will find other situations in which you may wish to use the
cane somewhat differently.  For example if you are baking a cake in your
kitchen, and if you drop a cup measure on the floor, you may discover that
it is faster to locate the lost cup measure by putting your cane flat on
the floor and sliding it from side to side until it hits the cup.  Your
cane is meant to be a tool, and you are the best person to know how to use
it to get the information you need. 
     A white cane can vary in length from 24 to 69 inches.  The length you
choose will depend on your height and the speed at which you wish to
travel.  Taller people and those who walk faster need longer canes than
shorter, more slow-moving folks.  Probably the most satisfactory cane is
one which is rigid and flexible.  There are a number of folding or
telescoping canes.  These will work if they are rigid but flexible when
fully extended. 
     Blind travelers often find the landmark system of travel to be quite
effective.  If you know that there is a bakery on the corner, the smell of
freshly fried doughnuts will tell you that you're getting close to it. 
The aroma of a shoe store, the sound of a particular revolving door or
escalator, the noise of a school bell, a particular piece of rough
pavement--these can all be indicators which help to pinpoint your
     These are only a few suggestions.  There are many other ways to gain
the information you need.  You can ask a passerby to read a sign or tell
you what businesses are nearby. 
     Blind travelers are also frequent users of public transportation:
trains, buses, and subways.  Most transportation systems have a telephone
number to call for information about routes of travel and times of
departure.  If you are using public transportation, you may need to be
told where to catch the bus or subway.  For a newly-blinded traveler,
major transportation hubs may seem confusing at first.  The National
Federation of the Blind has chapters in almost every city of any size.  We
may be able to help you locate a blind traveler who can give you tips
about public transit.  Perhaps a person familiar with the area can help. 
     Whether you travel with a guide dog or a cane, approach independent
travel as an adventure.  Blind people are often told that we should stay
at home.  Quite the opposite is true.  The blind (just as others) should
be a part of the world in which we live.  We can be full participants in
the mainstream of our culture.  We can, that is, if we travel.  For fun,
for work, for the discharge of civic duty, for essential errands, for
social occasions, travel is necessary and the blind can do it
     If you would like more information about using a long white cane ask
for our book, The Care and Feeding of the Long White Cane.  We will be
glad to send you a large print copy of this book without charge. 


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