“The goal of O&M is the independent movement and travel in blind children at an age/stage appropriate time so that children develop the perception of themselves as active movers and independent travellers”.
Joseph Cutter in his book “Independent Movement and Travel in Blind Children. A Promotion Model” (2007)
I love this book, although I have to say the formatting of it is not ideal and does make it quite difficult to read. However the ideas that are contained within are fabulous. The notion that children with vision impairment should become responsible for their own mobility from a very young age is an empowering one. I really like the emphasis that this book gives on the role of parents as their child’s first O&M teacher. This book was published after I had been working in the early intervention field of O&M for several years, and it was very encouraging for me to see some of my approaches reinforced within.
It’s now the other end of the Easter/Anzac Day long weekend in Australia and I have managed to get quite a bit of writing done in between enjoying Melbourne’s magnificent Autumn weather. Today I am looking at the history of long cane training with children. When I trained as an O&M Specialist in 1987, we spent maybe 5 half day sessions within a 12 month Graduate Diploma course learning about working with children. Long canes were never introduced to children younger than school age, and in fact, O&M training usually wasn’t provided until the child started to attend pre-school or school. Having studied psychology, I was aware of theories of child development, but hadn’t really thought about applying them to the early introduction of the long cane. It just ‘wasn’t done’!
Having spent a substantial amount of time reviewing the literature in this area, I am surprised at some of the earlier ideas that were emerging as the profession of O&M developed. I was particularly interested to read an article by Dr Richard Hoover written in 1950. This article, titled “The Cane as a Travel Aid” appears in a book called “Blindness: Modern Approaches to the Unseen Environment”. Unfortunately this book is now out of print, but I managed to get a second hand copy from Amazon.com (for only $15 including postage to Australia!). The article by Hoover outlines the development of the long cane training program at Valley Forge General Hospital. Although primarily discussing the development of techniques for blinded war veterans, Hoover also talks about the perceived ‘stigma’ of the long cane. I particularly found the following statement interesting:
“Children usually have no prejudices one way or another and will accept a training program as planned for them. If they were to grow up with a cane in their hands, so to speak, there would be no selling problem involved as to the need and benefit of such an aid” (p 358).
Hoover also questions whether a long cane needs to be white, and strongly advocates for the right of the individual to choose the colour of the cane so it conforms to his or her needs. Another issue that is being debated in the field now that we have coloured canes more freely available. A topic for another post!
It’s frustrating that 60 years after this was written, we are still debating within the field of O&M at what age a child is ‘suitable’ to receive a cane. We still battle other health professionals so that young blind children get referred for O&M training at an appropriate age. And we still have sighted ‘experts’ telling long cane users what is or is not an appropriate colour for their cane to be.