Having been matched with my potential new guide dog, the excitement of being rid of the white cane is rising. If I'm being totally honest, I don't really use it as much as I should and thus my independence has suffered quite a bit since Glacier's retirement. Well, my independence sort of suffered a bit even when he was working because I was nervous to go out and work with him, but I was definitely getting out on my own more than I am now. Is my aversion to the white cane a good thing? Of course not and I know my new guide dog trainer was slightly horrified when I told him I was terrible with it and have hardly used it since being matched with Jetta in 2002, but I was just being honest. Not to mention, even though I don't use the cane, I am pretty comfortable in areas that I am familiar with and could give a sighted person directions if necessary. It's not the directions that confuse me or walking a straight line. It's not even the strange feeling like I'm floating out in space when using the cane. It's just that the cane is so slow and I get it stuck in everything. I've had this discussion with quite a few people, Mr. K being one of them, and he assures me it's because I'm using it wrong. I believe him.
When Mr. K takes the cane out he hardly ever hits objects and despite it gut checking him because the sidewalk is uneven, he really doesn't have the problems with it that I do. There's probably a myriad of factors that contribute to his success as a cane user and I am not, one of them being that I just hate the thing and can't seem to bring myself to learn to use it properly. I thought that when Glacier retired I'd get lessons and become at least an average cane user instead of a less than horrible cane user, but the instructors are so over booked that I couldn't even get on the waiting list. So, I remained horrible. The funny thing is I can get around better without the cane than with it. For example, I can walk Hermione and Otis both down to the relieving area without the cane just fine, but if I take the cane I run in to everything and get caught on the pavement. Sometimes when I'm feeling particularly ambitious and I know the cycling trail is going to be quiet, I walk the dogs-off leash-without the cane. I can walk a fairly straight line and just check the edge of the grass with my foot every once in a while to make sure I'm still along the side. If I didn't have to worry about strange objects and other pedestrians blocking my path, I could probably walk the streets without a cane, but put one in my hand and I'm all over the place. I don't know if it's because I'm deaf in the ear on the side that I carry the cane and it makes me unbalanced or what it is, but I run into everything. Maybe it's entirely in my head. That is very possible.
When I attended a school for the blind for three years, I spent the last two years there running about the campus caneless. I used pavement/floor changes, the sounds of buildings and so many other cues to know where to go. Once you've been in a particular place long enough your body also becomes accustomed to turning at certain spots. The fancy technical term for it is "time distance estimation." I used it the other day when showing the guide dog trainer where I'd be relieving my new dog.
It was the day I told him that my cane skills were terrible. We walked from my flat, him guiding me, and me telling him where to turn or where to go straight. When we approached the relieving area I told him to turn right. He asked me how I knew that was the spot and I explained that the ground changed as well as my time distance estimation being honed for that area since I walk the dogs there multiple times a day. I don't really know how to explain time distance estimation, but it is probably the equivalent of a sighted person walking from their bedroom to the bathroom in the middle of the night and not turning on a light. You know how to get to the toilet without falling down the stairs or taking a wrong turn. Your body just takes you there. However, if someone leaves a toy in the middle of the hall or a door ajar that normally isn't open, you trip over the toy or run into the door. These things get in the way of your time distance estimation. I think this is where the cane and I start clashing.
Because my cane wielding skills aren't great and I therefore get caught on cracks in the sidewalk, garbage bins, poles and whatever else may be sort of in my path, my time distance estimation gets interrupted. When I walk with a guide dog, that isn't disrupted. Ideally, we move smoothly and a particular speed is maintained. These fluid and uninterrupted movements allow me to feel more confident in my time distance estimation. I think that is why walking around without a cane on the cycling path and down to the dogs' relieving spot is more comfortable for me. I can just get there without the constant jolting and extra arm movement that the cane use requires. The only problem with this, or perhaps not the only problem but one of the greater ones, is that people don't know I can't see.
I can't tell you how long it took for people who I see regularly on the cycling path to realise I was blind. Some of them I told just to reduce some of the confusion and others eventually saw me using the white cane on longer walks with the dogs or walking sighted guide with a friend. My lack of identifier is problematic though in the instances when I don't see a person on a regular basis and I accidentally step into their path instead of moving out of it as intended. Once, I accidentally body checked someone in to a railing that runs along the top of the cycling trail because we both went the same direction. I think if I had had a cane at least they would have known to be more aware of which way I was going and then if I had still managed to body check them into the railing, they'd understand that I wasn't just a jerk.
So really, is the cane an evil stick?
It functions well for a lot of blind people who have mastered the skill of walking with it.
Would it have made my life easier in the last six months if I had had lessons and learned to use it competently?
And yet, knowing all of this, I chose only to use it when absolutely necessary and then only in very, very familiar areas. To me, it is still the evil stick and I will always prefer a guide dog over it. That is why I can't wait until I go into training with my new dog.
However, I have learned something in these last six months.
1. I can get better with the cane if I actually try. The first times I took it out on the trail with the dogs off leash, I hardly went anywhere because of how often it got stuck. I really don't have that problem anymore.
2. I really should learn to use it. No more explanation needed. I will just need an incredibly patient teacher.
That said, bring on the guide dog training class.