[nfbmi-talk] Blog by Federation Writer In omaha

Fred Wurtzel f.wurtzel at att.net
Fri Apr 15 01:47:16 UTC 2011

Notice, there is no travel instructor following Bridgit as she goes on her first route.  The Iowa Center teaches well and then truststhe student to use their skills.  This is what I mean by the professionals building confidence in blind clients.  Iowa practices the positive philosophy as I mentioned earlier in the post on this list about rehabilitation counselors.  Again, I strongly encourage everyone to read “Blindness: handicap or Characteristic,” probably the best single essay on blindness ever written.  


As a note, Bridgit is writing in the Omaha World herald as a staff blogger.She is a member of the NFB Writers Division.


Livewell logo

Using the long white cane


Thursday April 14, 2011


Bridgit Kuenning-Pollpeter

The entryway of the Iowa Department for the Blind was warm.  Heat streamed out of

the vent enveloping me in warmth.  I reveled in it as I prepared to step out in the

cold of February.

Flipping the glass lid up on my watch, I felt the raised dots and arrows checking

the time.  It was now or never.  I had been at the training center for two weeks,

and after working with an instructor on how to use a long white cane, I was now going

out on my own for the first time.

I took a deep breath and pushed the door open.

A blast of icy air greeted me as I slid my cane down the first step, my feet following.

Repeating this until the final step, I turned south beginning my walk around the


My black heels click-clacked on the pavement as my cane arced left to right.  Keeping

the motion in a shoulder width pattern, my body avoided collision with parking meters

and buildings.

Halfway down the block, a cold breeze flitted around me, and the faint sound of traffic

echoed through the alley separating the Department from the building next door.

I crossed the alley, continuing toward Grand Street.

Traffic in front of me sounded closer.  A greasy warmth permeated the air.  I wrinkled

my nose as I passed the Domino’s on the corner.

Cars whooshed and rumbled by on busy Grand Street as I turned the corner.  My cane

tapped against the cement planters which surely were empty in late February.

My pace remained steady until my cane slid off a curb.  Stopping, my ears detected

cars to my right.  The traffic on Grand was still speeding by.  This was the parking

garage so I listened to determine if any cars were pulling in or out of the garage

before crossing the drive.

Reaching the other side, my cane found the curb, and I stepped up on the sidewalk.

Nearing the end of this block, I was elated with my progress.

Arriving at Fifth Street, whirring, buzzing and hammering blared in the distance.

The sounds came from the auto body shop midway down the block.

The sounds magnified and the temperature changed slightly.  I stopped to recognize

my surroundings.  The traffic was muffled and people shouted over the heavy-metal

music mingling with electric screw drivers and the pop of hydraulic car lifts.  I

realized I had meandered into the body shop.

Listening to the sound of cars, my cane began its rhythm once more as I left the

shop.  The air grew chill again, and the buzz of traffic was no longer muffled.

Since the sun was beaming today, it assisted me in finding my directions as its weak

February warmth flirted on my face.  I returned my gate to a quick, succinct pace

continuing towards Watson Powel Street.

My cane soon slid into an object in front of me.  Gently tapping it along the object,

I discerned a car was parked.  Hearing the distant traffic to my right, I knew I

was on the other side of the alley by the Department.  This must be the mail truck

that parked in the alley each day.

Using my cane to tap around the front of the truck while maintaining the shoulder

width motion, I crossed the alley drive.

My feet started up an incline.  This was the wheelchair ramp at the back of the Department.

A moment of temptation seized me as I contemplated cheating.  It was cold and I wanted

back in, but it would be worth it to finish this first independent travel lesson.

Turning around, I caned back down the ramp.  A metallic ring echoed as my cane found

the railing along the ramp.  I lined myself up using the sun again as a guide and

clicked on down to the end of this block.

Finally, I came to home block.  I sidled closer to the brick building.  Tapping my

cane against the brick, I was searching for the stairs.  I tapped my cane to the

left on the ground, but tapped against the building on the right so I would find

the stairs.

Sure enough, a quarter of the way down, my cane slid onto the first cement stair.

Holding the cane in front of me this time, I followed it up the steps.  My body prickled

as warm air ushered me back into the entry way.

I opened the second set of doors and walked into the building.  The tip of my cane

clicked again as I left the rug of the entry way and found the marble floor of the

reception area of the department.

Angling slightly to the left towards the elevator, I smiled.  My first outdoor travel

lesson, and I made it back in one piece.

These initial lessons, known as structured discovery, were meant to prepare me for

independent mobility anywhere.  It is like riding a bike—once you learn, you never

forget, and you can hop on any bike and ride it.

It is confusing and even doubtful for some that the long white cane is an effective

tool for independent travel, but if you learn the technique and actually use it,

the cane is a powerful and capable tool.

Eight years later, my travel skills have strengthened, and time and time again, the

cane assists me in traveling with independence and efficiency.

To learn more about structured discovery and the long white cane, visit










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2 Responses to Using the long white cane

Lisa  says:

April 14, 2011 at 4:13 pm

Great sensual details make this piece clear and enlightening for a sighted person.


Bridgit Kuenning-Pollpeter


April 14, 2011 at 4:23 pm

For those who use a long white cane, we forget that not everyone understands the

technique. It becomes second nature when you use a tool like the cane consistently,

but obviously it is not always clear as to how the cane works to an observer.

I try to place readers behind my eyes, if you will, to not only explain the cane,

but to hopefully give you a sense of what it is like.

Hey, it is that “show” versus the “tell” you guys always knock into our heads! It

really is effective!


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