The Long and the Short of Canes
A few weeks ago, I had an opportunity to talk about vision loss to a group of Facebook readers who wanted to know more about the topic. They were very interested in how I could see to use the computer. The second most frequent question was what concessions did I make to get around?
Of course, the overriding answer to that question was my “mobility” cane.
In the course of the conversation I told them that I was 5’1” and my cane was 52″long. This information seemed to surprise the group of women in the group. One of the women said she had a detached retina, which meant her peripheral vision was blurry. To move safely from place to place, she had to use a mobility cane as well. But hers was only about 38″ long. “We measure them from the breastbone down in the UK,” she explained.
That was only about a foot difference but the woman said, “I wouldn’t be able to use one that long.” She talked a little bit more about it and summed it up by saying, “Different strokes for different folks.”
Mine comes up to my chin and with the elastic strap is as long as I am tall. Sometimes I have to be careful when I grab my cane because it’s the same height as my broom. I almost left the house with that one day!
When I first got my cane, I went through a long discussion with my mobility instructor to find the right size. There’s a passage about it in my memoir, Mobility Matters: Stepping Out in Faith.
Bob winked as if he were certain all along that he’d win me over. He bent down and felt around his feet, lifting a large black nylon bag I hadn’t even noticed him carry in. How could I not notice that big bag? “Superb.” He smiled confidently. ”Now what size do you think you’ll need?”
“Size? What do you mean?” Would I need other equipment, like special shoes?
“I’m referring to the length of the cane you’ll need,” he explained. “How tall are you?”
“Five foot one.”
“Fifty-two inches would be about right then.” He rummaged through his bag and extracted a folded cane, then slid his hand down the length of that section. “Yes, this is the one.”
His voice took on a persuasive tone. “Want to try a few canes?”
“Ah, well, hmm.…” I couldn’t get out of this situation without being outright rude.
“Try the fifty-two inch,” Bob said, deftly unfolding it. “Are you right-handed or left?”
He placed it in my hand, straightening my thumb and index finger while curling my others around the top. “Don’t worry about this elastic strap. It’s necessary to store the cane compactly when you aren’t using it. For now, let it hang. Just walk around the room,” he encouraged. “Back straight, head up.”
Was I a model now?
“Is that the right length? Would you like to try a shorter one? I have an excellent forty-nine inch. Lighter weight, too.”
He set me up with it. “Go,” he said, giving me a little push. “Wait. Sweep it back and forth.”
A few days later I asked an orientation and mobility instructor how she knew which size mobility cane to order for her clients. She said, “There are so many factors.
It depends on the height of the person, the angle the person holds the cane, how far ahead he or she wants to find the obstacles. Preference. Age. How fast he or she walks.
For example, you walk fast so you need a longer mobility cane to find the obstacles faster before you reach them. In this country, the majority of mobility canes are quite long. But not always.”
That was true. The ninety-five-year old vision-impaired gentleman at my speaking engagements used a short cane that went up to his knee and had three prongs to help support him so he could still get around. He used it much the same way most elderly people use shorter canes. But his had a red strip on it to indicate his vision loss to others.
In the photograph here, the reader can see my mother uses a cane on the shorter end as well. She needs the support to get around, both in and out of the house. She relies heavily on her cane. She even keeps it at the head of her bed when she sleeps in case she needs to get up to go to the bathroom in the middle of the night. She doesn’t need it for vision so technically it’s a support cane, not a mobility cane. But she uses it to stay mobile. It’s important for her to securely grip it to ensure she doesn’t fall. She taps hers straight up and down–and every once in awhile slugs me in the butt with it when I sass her!
Mine, which I use for the sole purpose of finding obstacles, gets swept back and forth and only on stairs do I hold it up and down to determine the height of the step.
Whether it’s long or short, the most important thing to remember is to prevent tripping anyone with it when you open it or are moving through a crowd. I think the same rule applies to canes as does cars: stay one cane length away. When that’s not possible, smile and say, “Beep! Beep! I’m comin’ through.”
Have you ever used crutches or any kind of cane? Do you use one now? How do others respond to you with your cane? Are they any more helpful or are they caught up in their own lives? Have you ever seen someone using a mobility cane?
You have just read “The Long and the Short of the Cane” by Amy L. Bovaird Copyright October 24, 2015. Don’t forget to leave a comment!