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A Q&A about Structured Discovery Cane Travel

A number of interesting breakout sessions were held at the Orientation and Mobility conference that was held September 29—October 2 in Richmond, Virginia, sponsored by the Southeastern and Central O&M Associations,. One of those sessions was a discussion about Structured Discovery Cane Travel (SDCT) ™ methods and principles, led by Maurice Peret, Jennifer Kennedy, and Joanne Laurent.  During this session, the moderators asked the audience to submit questions regarding  myths, assumptions, and rumors they had heard about SDCT practices.  The goal of this exercise was not to compare and contrast SDCt and traditional training, but rather to provide an opportunity to gain a more accurate understanding of a training methodology with which many are not familiar.

What follows are the questions and responses which we were not able to get to because of limited time.  These are not in any order other than how they were submitted.  We fully anticipate that in answering these questions, many more will arise, and we welcome the opportunity to participate in future exchanges of information and strategies.


Q: What is the written or working definition of SDCT?

A: In short, Structured Discovery Cane Travel (SDCT) ™ is defined as the consumer-based model of orientation and mobility instruction that is derived from the collective knowledge, experiences, attitudes, and expectations of blind men and women. A full and complete description of the methods and principles that comprise SDCT take months to convey as graduate students or those pursuing an apprenticeship will attest. SDCT is not simply a strategy that can be incorporated into lessons being taught by those conventionally trained because it is a “whole paradigm” and to adopt only specific elements negates its entire premise.


Q: If one is discovering how can it be structured? Is "structure referring to chaining or a scope and sequence of instruction?

A: The “structured” in SDCT refers to the instructional practice in which guided methods are introduced from the beginning of the learning process while continually shifting towards independent discovery and self-monitoring. Through methods such as Socratic questioning, the instructor leads the student to “discover” orientation and mobility concepts. In a very simple example, on the first day of instruction, an SDCT practitioner uses guided instruction to teach cane technique and how to walk in-step. Rather than directly telling the student when he/she is not arching the cane correctly or when he/she is out of step, the instructor might simply ask, “Do you feel that your arch is wide enough?” or “Are you walking in step?” The student will instantly learn the internal dialog that is necessary to develop self-monitoring skills which is a crucial concept for independent travel.


Q: Is SDCT possible with a 60 minute session per week?

A: Yes. Structured Discovery Cane Travel is not specifically time-dependent although regular and consistent instruction is always the best practice. SDCT has more to do with the approach of the instructor and the length of the actual lesson is beside the point.


Q: How does a blind SDCT instructor teach in a novel environment to them and to the client?

A: Through mutual awareness and collaborative discovery, when you understand SDCT, you know that each travel lesson is built around the concept of learning mobility principles through experiences in novel situations. This is to say, that the SDCT instructor continually works to introduce new environments to the student, and whenever possible, it can be very beneficial when a lesson can take place in surroundings which are also not familiar to the instructor. The student not only has the opportunity to study how an experienced blind traveler can synthesize non-visual information, but he/she can also contribute to their pooled observations and equally participate in the travel experience.


Q: What is the preferred way to offer assistance to a person who appears to be an SDCTist?

A: There is no difference in the way assistance should be offered to someone who has been trained in the SDCT model.


Q: What language does one use not to offend?

A: Use normal, polite regularly spoken language. What offends are notquestions, but rather assumptions stemming from misconceptions.


Q: Do you offer assistance at all?

A: It is always polite to offer help to anyone if it appears that they may be in need of assistance. But sometimes if there is no imminent danger, it may be best to hold back and to allow someone to use his/her own skills. Obviously it depends on the situation, but remember to listen to the person’s response. Do they need “help” or just information.


Q: Do you wait for a person to ask for help?

A: It depends upon the circumstances. Always observe first. If the person seems to be doing fine, they likely don’t need assistance; however, it is always polite to say “hello” if your paths are crossing. If the person does need help, then your acknowledging their presence can be the conversation starter for them to take the initiative to request either assistance or information.


Q: How is SDCT sequenced in terms of instruction?

A: SDCT is sequenced in terms of instruction from guided towards self-initiated, independent movement commensurate with the students’ abilities and capabilities. In the beginning of instruction, considerable guidance is provided in teaching cane technique, basic concepts, and street crossing information etc. This should sound entirely similar to the conventional or traditional approach. Where the fundamental difference lays is in the gradual shifting of the responsibility for self-monitoring and environmental awareness to the student.


Q: Why such a long cane? If SDCT promotes staying "in-step" and "in-time" but cane tip is beyond stepping area, how is coverage ensured?

A: Walking in-step with the longer, white cane provides for adequate coverage when the person is walking with his/her back straight and effecting a normal gait. Experience has shown that walking at an individual’s natural walking stride while using a short cane all too often results in not enough reaction time to stop before overstepping a drop-off or hitting an obstacle. Hence, the length of the cane allows the person to walk at a normal pace and to have the confidence that he/she will have sufficient reaction time to respond to changes in the environment.


Q: How do you teach street crossings using the SDCT method?

A: Very similarly to the way it has conventionally been taught. The main differences are that very early on the student is expected to independently learn how to identify the type of intersection, traffic patterns, and when it is safe to cross. The instructor would only intervene in cases of imminent danger. For example, if a student veers but is not in danger, intervention is not warranted and the student would be instructed as how to recover his/her line of travel. Also, through questioning by the instructor, the student would analyze why the veering occurred and possible ways to avoid doing so in the future.


Q: How do you deal with someone who is intensely afraid or refuses to wear a blindfold?

A: The instructor takes the time to communicate with the student and to identify the basis of the fear. Also, because the instruction builds upon itself, the student is given opportunities to experience success and develop confidence before they are challenged to go beyond their own personal comfort zone; for example, mastering walking in a straight line in front of their house before learning to cross the street. This is not significantly different than a traditionally trained instructor might do with any fearful student, but because blindfolds are only used intermittently, if at all, the fear is sometimes reinforced rather than conquered.  In situations in which students experience a great deal of fear, it is also extremely beneficial for SDCT instructors to share any past experience in overcoming their own misgivings about their ability to travel as either a blind person or when they first began cane travel instruction with sleepshades. The ability to perform as a role model is essential in the SDCT approach. Fear and apprehension over the use of blindfolds has more to do with lack of exposure and once the safety and efficacy of blindfold training is modeled and confirmed, fear and apprehension dissipate very quickly.


Q: Can a person use residual vision in SDCT?

A: SDCT instruction functions fundamentally from the non-visual perspective and our training is conducted with the use of blindfolds. It is not reasonable for students to learn to trust their cane when their faulty sight gives them contradictory or only partial data. It is also undermining if students believe the use of their residual sight was the key to their success and not their ability to synthesize correctly perceived non-visual information, their developing problem-solving skills and their capacity to monitor their own safety as they progress through various environments which may or may not be familiar to them. Mastery of SDCT techniques has often been shown to result in more efficient use and integration of residual vision after training.


Q: What are the basic philosophic differences between COMS and NOMCs?

A: It is probably safe to say that the fundamental philosophical similarities between NOMC and COMS is the desire to ensure that all consumers can travel independently, efficiently, and safely to the best of their ability. Each school of thought has been influenced by those who develop its techniques and principles based on beliefs, attitudes, and expectations. SDCT methods and philosophy are born from the actual experiences of blind individuals who felt that traditional training was often not sufficient to allow them to gain the necessary skills to fully engage in society. The roots of SDCT go back more than 50 years ago and it is fair to say that the philosophical premises regarding blindness are shared with those embodied by the National Federation of the Blind.


Q: Can a sighted person effectively teach SDCT?

A: Yes, there are a number of sighted instructors who have learned to train consumers using SDCT methods and they are as effective as their blind counterparts. Because all instructors must possess an unwavering belief in the skills they impart, sighted instructors must also “walk the walk” and demonstrate that they too can travel efficiently and safely in familiar and unfamiliar settings while wearing a blindfold. This is obviously not the case at all times while teaching, but acting as a role model is an important aspect in SDCT and many sighted instructors utilize their own use of blindfolds as a valued tool in their teaching.


Q: How much information does an instructor share using the top-down program?

A: Most “top down” instruction occurs very early on in the teaching of cane technique and concepts. However, the role of the SDCT instructor is not to transfer information, but rather to ask the questions that will allow students to gather the information for themselves. Again, the fundamental goal is to immediately begin shifting the responsibility for self-monitoring and environmental awareness to the student until the instructor is no longer a part of the process.


Q: What is your view on Sighted Guide?

A: Although there is nothing inherently wrong with Sighted or human guide, SDCT instructors strongly promote self-initiated, independent mobility and its use undermines this goal. Any time we lead a student, or allow them to use a human guide during the instructional process, we are robbing that person of an opportunity to learn and we are relegating that student to play a passive role and neglecting our responsibility to teach independent movement. Certainly, all blind persons in their private lives may use a guide (be they sighted or blind) at sometime, SDCT instructors discourage this practice only while the individual is in training.


Q: Can a person use or be taught SDCT if they are a dog guide user?

A: The orientation, problem-solving, and self-monitoring skills taught by a SDCT instructor can just as easily be used with a cane or dog. But in order to gain those skills the consumer must use a cane and then if they choose to train with a dog they must do so at an appropriate organization dedicated for that purpose.


Q: Can a person use or be taught SDCT if they use an ETA, GPS, APS, etc.

A: Because the fundamental core of SDCT is to teach students to use their own awareness of the environment, problem-solving, and experiential knowledge, SDCT instructors generally limit the use of ETA, GPS, APS, etc. When students have developed sufficient skills to gain or maintain their orientation in both familiar and unfamiliar surroundings, technology can then be introduced as an option of obtaining information. Such devices might also be used earlier in the training process with a student who may have additional disabilities which make managing information more difficult.


Q: Is a SDCT instructor always with a student – when do they back off? When do they go solo?

A: Whether, or when, a student is expected to travel without being accompanied by an instructor is a very individualized decision. In general, students are given “solo” assignments that are commensurate with their age and the stage of their training as soon as deemed appropriate as evidenced in each situation. Students must demonstrate their competency to safely self-monitor, properly gather and synthesize environmental information, and respond in a safe and effective manner and only then, would an instructor begin assigning solo routes that are within the range of experience for the student. Quite often, these routes may be in part, or entirely, novel.


Q: Do SDCT instructors teach pre-cane devices or AMDs?

A: Because the structure of many pre-cane and AMDs serve as a barrier to surroundings, they limit the exposure that blind children have with their environment. With a toddler, we would advocate the integration of an appropriate size cane for general mobility. During play we also promote the use of push toys that can be used out in front of the child. We strongly encourage children to freely move, explore, and to thoroughly engage with their environment and pre-cane and AMDs devices are not conducive to these ends.


Q: Do NOMCs prefer being called an instructor or specialist?

A: Either term is acceptable.


Q: What Textbooks are used for SDCT?

A: The graduate degree program in O&M at Louisiana Tech University uses Cognitive Learning and Cane Travel Instruction (Mettler, 2008); Techniques Used by Blind Cane Travel Instructors (Morais et al, 1997); The 29th IRI, Contemporary Issues in O&M (Dew and Allen, 2004); The Nottingham Report (Dodds, 1984); Independent Mobility for Blind Infants and Toddlers, a Promotion Model (Cutter, 2007); and other readings as assigned.


Q: Why does SDCT utilize sleepshades?

A: SDCT is fundamentally based on nonvisual methods and principles. Some individuals may only have trouble with mobility at night, some during the day, and others with transitions from bright to dim areas; still others with tunnel vision, and a whole myriad of different scenarios. What is common among all consumers is that their visual impairment fails them in some degree. SDCT utilizes sleepshades training to teach that the cane, problem-solving skills, and experience will enable a greater degree of freedom irrespective of visual acuity or environmental conditions. Our goal is to enable consumers to efficiently and safely move without limiting themselves to what they can comfortably see. This allows for their self-esteem to be based on their true ability and not something as capricious as their visual functioning.


Q: Why does SDCT de-emphasize education/degree programs?

A: SDCT does not deemphasize university training, as is evidenced by the Louisiana Tech O&M graduate program. However, under the NOMC certification process, there is also an option to obtain certification via an apprenticeship program.


Q: What empirical research is available in SDCT?


A: Although there has been some research studies which included consumers trained by SDCT methods, no pure empirical research has been conducted to validate the efficacy of SDCT, nor traditional training methods for that matter. Both rely on historical knowledge, professional and personal experience and anecdotal evidence. Traditional instructors are not routinely asked to provide evidence that their interventions are effective, but this is typical within any paradigm shift in any profession as is illustrated by behaviorism verses cognitivism or whole word learning versus phonics.


Q: What does one have to do to become an NOMC if they are already a COMS?

A: There are currently two paths to becoming eligible to test for NOMC certification. The first is to matriculate through the O&M program and Louisiana Tech University and the second is to complete an apprenticeship with an existing qualified NOMC. Details can be found at


Q: Does the presence of an 'extra long' cane indicate a person is NOMC or SDCT trained?

A: Although the longer cane is symbolic of the SDCT model of instruction, some individuals who were traditionally trained often adopt a longer length once given an opportunity to become familiar with its use.


Q: Where does low vision fit into SDCT?

A: This question has partially been answered with the responses to Question 10 and 21. When a consumer indicates interest in utilizing low vision devices, he/she would be referred to appropriate sources. The role of the SDCT instructor is primarily to teach students that they can go when and wherever they want to go without fear the they might not be able to see something. Once they have developed true confidence in the cane and nonvisual techniques, then they can use low vision devices at their own discretion.


Q: When is SDCT taught to children?

A: SDCT principles can be used with children regardless of age. Clearly, the skills taught will not be the same for a toddler as they are for an adult just as with traditional training.


Q: When or is SDCT taught to persons with multiple impairments?

A: SDCT is fundamentally the way in which we approach each and every student. Obviously, when a consumer has additional impairments, modifications to instructional strategies and assignments must be made. The objectives, however, do not change. Our goal is to be sure that a student meets his/her ability to the fullest extent possible. A fundamental principle of SDCT is that any given person, regardless of the presents of any additional physical, mental or emotional circumstance, can learn to function comparable to their sighted counterpart. For example, a blind student with a developmental disability can learn to become as independent as any sighted individual with the same level of developmental disability.