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A Walk in the Dark

Photo and article by IBCF Board Member, Toula Oberlies

A walk in the dark with the aid of a cane is every day practice for many students at the Indiana School for the Blind and Visually Impaired (ISBVI). Learning how to better use their cane and recognize the environments around them is the job of ISBVI Mobility Specialists, who through funding from the Indiana Blind Children’s Foundation (IBCF), now have a new stock of 171 canes and 26 different cane tips to use with their students.

Mobility Specialists work with students to teach them to safely navigate the school’s hallways, stairways and the campus’ grounds, and to be aware of outside environments such as sidewalks, street crossing, busy intersections, riding a bus, and going into stores and restaurants. Mobility Specialist, Jessica Hunt, explains that specialists work with students as often as they need it, one or two quarters per year for some, and year round with others.

Photo features Jessica Hunt, Mobility Specialist, working with ISBVI students.There are three techniques to walking with a cane, Diagonal Trail, with the cane next to the wall, Constant Contact, sliding the cane between 10:00am and 10:00pm, and Two-Point Touch, tapping it outside of each shoulder. Cane training begins by walking up and down a school hallway, with the specialist walking behind the student to observe their manner.

Photo features Jessica Hunt, Mobility Specialist, working with ISBVI students.

Having a supply of canes available is necessary because as students grow taller, they are provided with new, longer canes, and as cane tips wear out after a period of time, new tips can replace the old. It’s also important to have a healthy supply of canes available in stock to loan-out when a student’s cane suddenly breaks.

There are many varieties of cane tips, the least expensive of which, is the Marshmallow. It comes in a variety of colors. There is also the Roller, the Ceramic, and the High-Mileage, all at slightly higher cost, and available for students at ISBVI. What a student chooses to use comes down to personal preference.

Mobility training involves setting goals for skill learning, with points earned at completion. These points add up, and at a certain point privileges such as walking on the Monon Trail, traveling to Broad Ripple for pizza, or to Kroger at Nora to buy milk and bread, are earned. Jessica Hunt explained how excited the students are to venture out into the community. Along with their mobility training, they are encouraged to use Google Maps to locate their destination by putting in addresses for a walking route.

Just how valuable canes are for a student’s mobility was demonstrated on a recent visit to ISBVI with Mobility Specialist Jessica Hunt, and students M.T., age 17, and M.V., age 15.

M.V. has been blind since birth, and received her first tiny cane in pre-school. She had a specialist to work with her in learning how to use it in her home city of Richmond, IN. She was recently shown her very first cane, and said “Was I really that small?” M.V.’s current cane is 56” long. Her cane broke on the day we visited the school, so she consequently missed the bus to take her to North Central High School, where along with ISBVI, she also takes classes.

M.T. developed a vision impairment at a young age, and became totally blind when he was 10. That is when he came to ISBVI. His current cane is 54” long. Among his many activities, M.T. is a musician and World Series Champion Beep Baseball player. He proudly wears his World Series Champion ring. He’s excited about earning enough mobility points to go on an outside excursion, exclaiming with a big smile, “Broad Ripple, sounds like my kind of thing!”