Enhancing Orientation & Mobility Skills
Part 1 ‘The Touch-and-tap’ Method 

While this picture is a cartoon sketch, and the type of cane is wrong (it’s a support cane and not mobility) it depicts someone helping another and that is how my orientation and mobility instructor invests her time every day of her working life. She is focused on teaching skills to enable a vision-impaired person to have a higher quality life. 

What a calling. 

After a few years of not having any training, I needed to brush up on my skills. My vision had changed yet again and I was feeling overwhelmed at finding my way around large stores or super-centers such as K-Mart, Walmart, the grocery store, and Lowe’s. They filled me with dread. I often found myself disoriented and avoided them whenever possible. 

I used to bribe my brother to come in with me. “If you help me find xyz, I will buy you lunch.” If that didn’t work, I would say, “I hate you. You’re a despicable person!” I figured it would serve me better to treat him to a meltdown in advance rather than experience one by myself  in the store. I was banking on him one way or another.

Ever been there? 

Late December, my orientation and mobility instructor stepped in to help me over this hurdle. 

Since I was new to her, she wanted to observe my cane technique. She suggested we take a walk through my neighborhood. We walked down Hathaway Street past Marx, the badly burned, century-old industrial factory and took a few side street in the area. For the most part, I was comfortable with my technique and it felt like we were two friends out on a power walk. After awhile, she stopped me and said, “Have you ever tried the ‘touch and tap’ method? 

I gave her a blank look.

She showed me how to move forward with my right leg and tap to the left at the same time, so my cane was tapping opposite and providing better “cover” (protection).  I was able to pick up on the method fairly well. When I got out-of-sync, I started again. This method took more concentration. 

“So what is the benefit of this method?” I asked at the end of the hour. 

We were in my back driveway and she demonstrated how by using the touch and tap method, I could avoid running into obstacles, like her parked car, more easily.  “It provides better protection. There are no gaps.” 

So my homework was to practice that method and to write up what I learned. 

At first, practicing this method felt unnatural,  like when your bowling coach works with you on your moves when you approach the lane marker and roll your ball down it.  With consistent practice, it will lead to you getting a strike every time, so the coach says.  

I wasn’t used to the tapping. I had always practiced ‘constant contact’ by sweeping my cane from side to side in front of me. So it would take more practice before I could decide if this method would make me safer. My instructor said that was okay, that different methods worked for different people but had wanted me to know about it, at least. If I continued with my method, I would have to remember to move my cane to the left more as I was leaving myself exposed to potential hazards by not sweeping it far enough to that side.

I am grateful that my instructor introduced this new technique since it widens my experience and will allow me to experiment. As a former English as a Second Language teacher, I always loved learning new methods of teaching to my students. Though it took more preparation, it switched up the way my students could achieve their goals in a sometimes more natural context. 

It’s the same with my mobility training. The more knowledge i have, the better. My instructor was clever in that she tailored her delivery to me. She didn’t treat me like a novice or say, “You have to do it this way.” To anyone passing us on the street that day, we would have appeared as two friends–one with a long stick–getting in some exercise and catching up on life. But all the while, my orientation and mobility instructor was observing how I handled myself and made suggestions in a friendly, helpful way. I just loved my lesson! 

I’m one step closer of overcoming my fears in super-centers, where the goods are so spread out. Our next lesson would be a review of the tip-tap method and a walk through the local grocery.

Though you might not have vision issues, you may well relate to the unfamiliar layout of those “shop-all-in-one” stores that offer you the convenience of one-stop shopping. I want to say it’s for the birds, but even they would likely have to migrate south for the winter before they came across their bird seed! 

What are your favorite stores? Which ones do you avoid? How much time do you allot for shopping? Do you prefer to go alone or with someone else? Share in the comments below. 

You have just read “Enhancing Orientation and Mobility Skills” by Amy L. Bovaird. © January 5, 2017. All rights reserved.

For a deeper insight into mobility training, order my book, Mobility Matters: Stepping out in Faith (click on  button) for insights and humorous lessons into life with my cane, order my newest book, Cane Confessions: The Lighter Side to Mobilityhttp://amzn.to/2hOeQLM

Enhancing Orientation and Mobility Skills
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4 thoughts on “Enhancing Orientation and Mobility Skills

  • January 7, 2017 at 3:44 pm

    I think I remember you having a roller-ball tip on your white cane. Does the tip-tap method require you to switch to a lighter tip?
    PS — Where’s that video on echo location? I heard of someone five years old using it all the time and I’d like to learn.

  • January 7, 2017 at 4:14 pm

    Hi Melissa,
    Thanks for reading my post! First comment I’ve had for awhile. There are many different types of tips. Mine kept getting caught in the cracks of sidewalks. I now have a big ball, actually. it glides over the cracks. But I first practiced this method with a marshmallow tip. There are some that look like flat disks. And there are metal tips. The various tips send information to you by the sound they make the and way they interact with the environment. I will re-post the video on echo location.

  • January 7, 2017 at 6:36 pm

    Sounds like you have a wonderful instruct. I love mine!! O&M training has really given me back confidence. Stores I can’t stand… Walmart. The lighting is horrible for my residual vision. Newest thing I love is audio description at the movies. If you haven’t tried that you will love it!!! Helpful hint, I always take my own ear buds!

  • January 8, 2017 at 7:28 pm

    Hi Amy,
    Yes, I do. 🙂 It’s fun that we share both the same name and the feeling that O & M training has given us back our confidence! Thanks for the tip on the ear buds! I think the audio description is becoming more easily accessible now. I haven’t tried it yet but will.
    Thanks for stopping by my community and come back soon!

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