[nfbmi-talk] More On Student Projects: A Replacement For The White Cane?

Kane Brolin kbrolin65 at gmail.com
Mon Oct 19 13:43:58 UTC 2015


If you please, I would like to add a couple more comments to this
discussion on product design suggestions from sighted university
students that are intended to help blind persons.  I'm beginning to
have just a little experience with this down here in Indiana, because
one of my Federation chapter's officers is a computer science
professor at a small private college, and she is working with others
to develop a formal specialization for that college in accessible
product design for persons who have all manner of disabilities--right
now starting with blindness.  It is exciting to see this kind of
proactive focus, because in an environment like this college there is
less bureaucracy than at a big state institution and a lot of room for
flexibility in where this can lead.

I attended a class last week in which some undergrad students were
proposing ideas for something that might be useful to a blind
person--they'd invited a couple of us to come to the class to help vet
these ideas.  Everyone was well-meaning, and these students were
attempting to get to know their audience; but it's interesting that
everyone comes at this sort of thing with their own prejudices, which
usually start with how they would feel about the appearance of being
blind if they were ever to become blind.

One very nice female student, for example, said that she is thinking
of developing a replacement for the white cane that involves some kind
of guidance or object detection mechanism that would be integrated
into a pair of shoes.  I asked her politely, "Since the white cane has
been an effective, very affordable tool for several decades now, why
focus on replacing it?"  This young lady, in a slightly embarrassed
tone, responded that perhaps this would be useful for those who feel
embarrassed to carry a white cane.  My response to this, waving my
Federation flag high, was to say that I feel the best solution for
embarrassment about carrying a cane is--wait for it--to stop being
embarrassed about carrying a cane, as the main problem here lies
between one's ears and not in one's hand.

This generated some laughter, but then others did seriously make the
point that perhaps something will come along in the future to perform
the function of a white cane that is better than a white cane.  It was
suggested that these modified shoes might use vibration or directional
tapping to indicate approaching objects--something that might be
useful in light of the conversation around quiet cars and other
non-stationary objects that don't produce much of a sound when they
approach you.  Of course, this might prove to have merit; I know ideas
for electronic white cane replacement have been tested for at least 40
years.  And there are certain things a cane does not detect
well--especially dangerous objects stationed at head level that are
above a cane's natural arc.  And maybe it's true that, given all the
wearable Internet-connected things that are coming to market, we blind
people will benefit from navigational tech that is designed to give us
needed information and look fashionable at the same time.  Nothing
wrong with that.  I get that people are people, irrespective of
disability--regardless of eyesight--and that to some the outward
appearance of what they have or use is quite important to them.  So I
walked away from this discussion knowing that there are well-meaning
persons out there in the sighted world committed to helping us live
the lives we want better, even if they still come into it with
built-in stereotypes.

What I find most intriguing, though, is that after all these many
years of our society's becoming more open-minded and diverse, it's
often the same issue that keeps coming up in tandem with blindness:
potential embarrassment about one's having to disclose it to the
world.

I have three young, very lovely and very unique children, and I find
they view things very differently from most adults--probably
differently from most children, too.  They have known forever that
they have a blind dad, and they are not embarrassed about this.  In
fact, every one of them has gone through a phase where they take a
long, stick-like object and walk with it as if it were a white cane.
Just last week, my 2-year-old was doing this with an umbrella someone
gave him.  Eli was walking up and down the hall tapping the base of
his umbrella back and forth on the floor, saying proudly "Mine!
Mine!"  This really made me stop and wonder why embarrassment over
carrying our tried-and-true white cane produces such anxiety among
those of us who have gotten old enough to rationalize our actions,
even though the littlest of us look at it as a point of curiosity that
they don't make judgment calls about until some adult tells them they
should.  They even want to emulate white cane behavior if they see it.

Comments and suggestions are highly welcome.  Thanks for taking the
time to read this.

-Kane



More information about the nfbmi-talk mailing list