Does Cane Travel Focus on the Right Skills All the Time?

As I frequently tell my students who are learning to be cane travel instructors, our main priority must be on getting people back to work or school.

However, we have to stop and remember that life isn’t just about work.

There’s times where people need to have fun and enjoy themselves. We as teachers need to get them out in the world doing what normal, active people do. When we do, we will show them that the skills they learn will work just as well on the streets, at a basketball game, and even in the woods.

A few months ago, Maria Morais—who coordinates the only braille certification program designed for teachers—hiked Mount Driskill, the highest natural summit in Louisiana. Here in the Pecan State, the summit soars high above the bayou at 535 feet, which is about the height of a 60-story building. She had the idea to take our students out for a mini-hike, so I went exploring.

I discovered that you can easily feel where the path is beaten down, as there’s lots of overgrowth to the sides. There are no sudden drop-offs, so it’s quite easy to stay on the trail.

I agreed with Maria. When you explore an environment like that, you begin learning how to apply the skills that you have learned on city streets to nature’s creation. We took our graduate students with us once, and after they proved how easy the path was to independently explore, we began taking the adults who are taking part in the residential training program at the Louisiana Center for the Blind.

In the field of orientation and mobility, we get so hyper-focused on teaching students to use public transportation, find addresses, and create mental maps. All of that is important, but sometimes we forget that’s not what makes life worth living. When we go out with friends and family, we must incorporate those environments that students will encounter with their friends and family.

More than encouraging our students to apply their travel skills in new ways, though, we can inspire them. One of my students comes from an over-protective family, and his hearing loss has made travel seem difficult for him. When we took him to Mount Driskill, though, hiking came easy for him. For the two weeks leading up to that trip, we’d been working to master a route from the student apartments to our classrooms. Because the trail was so easy to follow, orientation on the mountain came easy for him. He’d never hiked before, yet he got a lot out of the experience.

Before taking him up the mountain, I wonder if I would have thought that he should master some basic orientation concepts first. I’m glad that he went with us, for now I know unequivocally that this easy hike may just help people get over a hurdle in their orientation skills training. It is also a great way to bond with our students and do something that gets us out of our everyday routines.

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Darick Williamson teaches cane travel at the Louisiana Center for the Blind, is a member of the National Blindness Professional Certification Board, and an instructor at Louisiana Tech University. When he's not working, he's an intermittent student of history.

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