I’ve started following a great twitter feed #phdchat – the value of online support cannot be underestimated! This post came about following a ‘challenge’ to write about your research in plain English. Not always that easy but here’s my attempt…..
When I tell people outside my field that I am researching the use of long canes by young blind children, they look at me blankly and ask “why wouldn’t you give a child a long cane if they are blind?”
Well the answer is not so simple. My profession of Orientation & Mobility (O&M) – teaching those with blindness or low vision the skills of independent mobility – developed post WWII due to the number of blinded young soldiers returning from the front. An American named Dr Richard Hoover developed the initial long cane and mobility techniques for use in rehabilitation settings. However, for those with congenital blindness, it was felt that the skills of the long cane were too advanced to be taught until the teenage years or even later. Children were expected to master a set of ‘pre-cane’ skills which included concept development and have ‘appropriate’ motor and cognitive abilities before the long cane was introduced.
In the 1980’s, more Orientation & Mobility Specialists were thinking and writing about the use of the long cane with children. In the 1990’s, ‘kiddy canes’ made especially for young children became available. Today, although more young children are receiving long cane training, it is still not standard practice.
My research is based on a group of children that I worked with in Australia, who received long cane training at a very early age (under the age of 4 years). I am using a qualitative research approach – symbolic interactionism – as I’m interested in ‘getting inside the heads’ of the children I trained. Symbolic interactionism can be summed up in three points:
- “Human beings act toward things on the basis of the meanings that the things have for them” (p. 2).
- “The meaning of such things is derived from, or arises out of, the social interaction that one has with one’s fellows” (p. 2).
- “These meanings are handled in, and modified through an interpretative process used by the person in dealing with the things he encounters” (p. 2). (Blumer, H. (1969). Symbolic interactionism. Perspective and method. New Jersey: Prentice-Hall, Inc.)
Put simply, I am interested in how the long cane is perceived by the children who use it. Much of the research in O&M is quantitative and looks at things like how many obstacles a long cane user comes into contact with prior to and after training, or how fast they are able to move through the environment. There is very little research which asks long cane users themselves about their experiences of O&M training.
I am going to conduct semi-structured interviews with 5 children, their parents and their specialist vision support teachers. I’m also doing some document analysis, and am going to ask the children to write a story about their cane. The data will then be analysed to look for common ‘themes’, which will then be linked back to my research question – how is early long cane training experienced by those who receive it?
The children I worked with attended a weekly group which bought them into contact with each other. Inclusive education is the norm in Australia meaning most children with vision impairment are attending their local mainstream school. As vision impairment is a low incidence disability, they don’t often get the opportunity to meet other children using the same tools, such as the cane. I am really interested in whether the group situation had an impact on the meaning of the cane. One of the issues an O&M Specialist often has to deal with is the ‘stigma’ associated with using a white cane. It immediately labels someone as ‘blind’ (even though the majority of long cane users have some useful residual vision). However, if a child begins using a cane as soon as they are walking, will it still have that effect for them?
That’s my research in a nutshell. I have recently received my ethics approval (a mini marathon in itself!) and will conducting my data collection later this year. I’d love any comments, positive or negative!