Freedom Sticks

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Editor's note: This is the first blog post by new VisionAware peer advisor Susan Kennedy. Find out about how learning orientation and mobility skills and a mobility cane brought "freedom" to Susan.

by Susan Kennedy

susan holding white cane standing next to Lion monument at NYPL

It was a sunny autumn morning a few years ago. On the brick pathway in front of my house, my mobility instructor and I stood side-by-side. I swept my new white cane across the uneven surface, registering the sensation of the bricks compared to the smooth wooden porch boards I explored earlier. The bumps and cracks felt jarring and jumbled together. The information overwhelmed my brain. I stopped and asked if my arm was at the correct angle, I didn't want to be making a habit with a poor stance. My instructor assured me my posture was fine.

Practice is Important

"With practice, you'll get the hang of it," he said. I nodded and moved my cane again. With any new motor skill, muscle nerves need repetition to store the movement into the brain's long term memory. Initially, everything would feel deliberate even klunky. I put faith in my instructor and gave my awkwardness the benefit of the doubt. Learning is exciting.

I wanted to learn. I realize some people with vision loss hesitate for a variety of reasons to try orientation and mobility skills. For me, it was a way forward; I was ready to be independent and using a white cane would give me freedom. Sign me up.

Fear of Traveling Begins to Lift

Over the next few weeks and months, I experienced a lot. One of the first things I remember feeling when I let my white cane lead as I traveled around my neighborhood was the burden it relieved from fear. I left behind the stressful idea I might be about to trip and fall. Instead, I could lift my head and relax my neck and walk with a sense of ease.

I admit, it's not amazing all the time. One unmistakable thing I'm aware of is the handle-to-the-gut jab. Moving quickly while abbreviating my form increases the chances I miss the cue it's time to halt. In a moment, the cane can belly check me. Oomph. It's not just new users who receive this quick, handle-hello. Seasoned but perhaps distracted users take the hit, too.

Mobility Builds Confidence

Alternatively, a feeling I revel in daily is the solid thunk of the marshmallow-shaped rolling tip connecting with a raised surface like a tall, yellow bollard. Success. It feels just as neat when I'm alerted by a distinct wrist lift when my cane tetters over the edge of a plane like a step. It worked again, I think.

By far the everlasting feeling I get from using my white cane is confidence. It wasn't instantaneous the first time I used my mobility device. Each time I practiced technique and toured places, it grew and grew. It turned into positive reinforcement to keep putting effort into incorporating the motor skills. I noticed what used to be stiff changed into smooth, familiar movement. Now I mobilize easily in unfamiliar places as well as usual routes like the walk to my bus stop from work because I honed my white cane skills.

My White Cane Gives Me Freedom

Confidence follows experience. From the first few sweeps across bricks to traversing my neighborhood to routine bus commutes, my white cane gives me freedom, indeed.

Did you face vision loss recently? Are you considering using a white cane? Are you already using a white cane for mobility? What was your experience like learning how to use one? Tell me about it.

Read More Blog Posts About Using a Cane

How I Accepted the White Cane

Choices We Make

My First Mobility Lessons Learning to Use a White Cane

The White Cane Symbol of Dependence or Independence

Getting Around
There are currently 5 comments

Re: Freedom Sticks

Susan, what a great capture of the experience of learning to use the white cane! From the first day we hold the cane until we become comfortable with it, you created a great picture of the process. And the result, if we put in the effort, is rewording… Confidence, safety, and freedom!! And yes belly jabs are just part of it aren't they? Ha ha! Great job and welcome to the VisionAware team!

Re: Freedom Sticks

Hi Susan, yes, great article - well captured and I was there with you, from that beginning sweep across the ground with how strange it felt, to the accidental 'Oomph' to then scooting quickly to your bus stop. For me, when I could lighten up in the beginning stage of using a white cane, I felt less awkward, trying to stride out but feeling so new. It took a while to adjust to responding to what I now call my magic wand as it is so incredibly helpful. Put away the stigma and pick up that freedom stick! Welcome as a peer advisor on VisionAware!

Re: Freedom Sticks

Having lost all of my vision as a child, I learned to depend on echo location and walking sighted guide with my large extended family. I didn't try using a cane until I was a freshman in college and my guide dog had an injured paw. Combined with echo location and a good sense of direction, I am confident I can go anywhere with a cane that I can with my dog, and it is even useful to have when communication between me and my dog breaks down and I need to figure out what he wants me to know. It is handy to carry a small light cane in my brief case or purse to verify things tor make a quick trip to the ladies room when my dog is comfortably asleep on a long car trip. I have always thought it is better to employ the right tools and get on with life than to worry about letting other know I can't see. It is so silly to risk injury because you think the cane makes you look blind or different. Much better to accept what is and get on with taking charge of your life.

Re: Freedom Sticks

Audrey, Maribel, and DeAnna, thanks for the warm welcome and sharing your interesting experiences, too!

Re: Freedom Sticks

My name is Julieta Artola and I am a senior Industrial Design Student at Wentworth Institute of Technology. I am currently working on my Thesis project which I have chosen to focus on pedestrian navigation for the visually impaired. I am in the research phase of my project and I came across your blog. I was wondering if you would be willing to answer a couple of questions from me, your experience would provide me a lot of insight into your experience with pedestrian navigation. I have attached the questions to this message, feel free to contact me with any questions you might have yourself my email is Thank you very much for your time and I hope to hear from you.
Julieta Artola
1) What do you feel most uneasy about when navigating the streets?
2) In what sense do you rely the most when walking the streets apart from hearing?
3) What techniques do you find most helpful when walking through crowded streets?
4) In what situations do you find yourself getting more anxious or stressed when walking around? How do you manage in that situation?
5) What do you find are the biggest distractions while walking around?
6) Are there any situations where you feel unsafe when walking the streets?
6) How do you feel about voice command applications?
7) What technologies do you prefer or find useful when navigating the streets?
8) Do you feel there are any areas that are not being addressed by these applications or technologies?
9) What are some pedestrian signals that you find most useful?
10) Have you had any experience with wearable technology and how do you feel about it?

Thank you very much for your time
julieta artola

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