Cane or Canine

Posted: 20/01/2015 |

For blind and partially sighted people, the choice between using a cane or a guide dog is often a personal one and in this blog we explore the options.

The cane

There are several different types of canes available for people with a visual impairment.image of person with a white cane crossing a road

Long cane

The long cane is used to detect objects in the user’s path. Usually measuring from sternum to floor, its length means the cane is always one or two steps ahead, allowing the user to avoid obstacles and find a way into a shop or down stairs. Used by rolling, tapping or sweeping from side to side, the long cane will detect anything from litter bins to kerbs or the edge of a train platform. It can also be used to shoreline, i.e., following a wall or fence to find a door or an opening.

Guide cane

This type is shorter than the long cane, extending only to the user’s waist and can be used to detect kerbs and steps. Its range is more limited but can be used in crowds where a long cane might be awkward.

Symbol cane

This is a light and short cane primarily used to alert others to the user’s visual impairment. It is not a mobility device.

Support cane

Its main function is to support a user who may need additional physical stability, e.g., due to age or an injury. White in colour, like a lot of canes, it also alerts others to the user’s visual impairment. Its use as a mobility device is, however, very limited.

A white cane with red stripes denotes a user who is deafblind. This is particularly important for drivers to be aware that the pedestrian will be unable to see or hear them.

The guide dog

Guide dogs are trained to help partially sighted or blind people navigate their environment. The dog is fitted with a body harness and a handle is connected to the harness. Like this, the guide dog is able to guide the human user who holds on to the handle. While the guide dog helps navigate the environment, it is important to remember the user is the one in charge and has to tell the dog what to do.

Benefits of the guide dog

Travelling with a guide dog tends to be smoother than with a cane and is often quicker, especially when the dog is familiar with the route. However, it is up to the handler to tell the dog where to go, where to turn, or when to cross a street. The dog does not know whether its handler wants to go to a friend’s house or to the supermarket, especially when both are on the same route.

A guide dog can help the user keep his line of direction more easily than a cane and will also guide the handler around obstacles that might be missed, such as tree branches and other objects at chest and head level. Because of this, a guide dog is ideal for travel in parks and similar environments.

Handling a guide dog

It is important to factor in the responsibilities that come with being a guide dog user when making a decision. Like a pet, the guide dog needs to be walked no matter how cold or rainy it is and, like any responsible dog owner, you will be expected to clean up after your dog. A guide dog enjoys working and is best for people who travel regularly. It needs to be fed and groomed regularly and taken to the vet when necessary.

A guide dog is a living being while a cane is not. The emotional bond formed with a guide dog can make it difficult to train with a new dog if your guide dog retires or passes away. At the same time, this emotional bond can be very beneficial for the guide dog user and the dog can facilitate social contacts.

Whatever the choice, both cane and canine are mobility tools that can greatly improve the quality of life, independence and confidence of a visually impaired person.