The Long Cane

Written by   Joe Cutter

The long cane protects and detects. It is an exploring tool. It facilitates safe and efficient travel. Use the cane with the brain! When in doubt, check it out! With partially sighted children, the cane "looks" down so they can look up. It has been said that they have vision for what they can see and the cane for what they can't. It has also been said, "Don't put your foot where you're cane hasn't been!"

Independent Movement and Travel Terms for Children

1. Walking with Someone 
Cane is held directly out in front of traveler, contacting the floor, sliding, or tapping.

2. Hold Cane for Cane Walking 
Cane is held in travel grip position that is developmentally appropriate for child.

3. Standing Position
When standing still, encourage child to hold cane upright.

4. Cane Down on the Ground 
The cane is meant to be oriented down. It is not a pointer.

5. Side to Side, Slide It Wide 
Also known as constant contact with the floor or ground. These are safer techniques for beginners.

6. Crowded Areas, Line Walking 

Shorten-Up Position - Grip cane further down the shaft to reduce the length of the cane and make it more manageable for children.

Pencil Grip - For older children, cane can be held like a pencil. This requires higher level hand functioning and is more efficient for crowded areas.

7. Cane the Wall
Using the cane to touch the wall for information or line of direction.

8. Scan
Using the hand to get a line of direction or information. To "scan" means to look.

9. Middle of Hallway Walking
As the child learns about walls, corners, etc., he/she will naturally move to the middle of the hall for faster, more convenient, and efficient travel.

10. Square Off
Placing the back to wall (or object) to get a line of direction.

11. Switch Hands 
There are times the child will need to change hands with the cane, for example, to look at something, on stairs, or to cane the wall. The cane should be held in the hand farther from wall.

12. Stairs
When going up, think "thumb up!" When going down, hold the cane in regular cane walking position or in the shepherd staff position.

13. Dip Down Clue
This is when cane drop-off occurs at stairs, curbs, etc. This enables the child to perceive a change in depth of the ground (depth perception).

14. Clear
When stepping up or down on a curb, or the last step on steps, the cane should slide side to side to protect the traveller from any object that may be there.

15. Clue
General information taken from the environment and used in orientation and travel.

16. Echolocation
Auditory sense enabling traveler to recognize an opening, closure, large objects, etc. A use of the sound space world to get a sort of figure-ground.

17. Long/Short Hallway Sound
Sound made by cane being tapped to determine characteristics of a space, destination to be travelled, etc.

18. Shorelining
Using two edges that come together on the ground to get a line of direction for travel (for example, grass and concrete for detecting intersections at a sidewalk).

19. Touch Technique
As the young child learns to keep the cane down on the ground and slide for information, then, gradually, the cane can be tapped left and tapped right—one step one tap—creating a low arc (inch or two off the ground).

20. In-Step Rhythm
Gradually the cane will be tapped to the opposite side of where the traveller is stepping. The cane is tapped to right as child is stepping to left.

21. Sleepshades 
Blindfold used to cover the eyes while learning the skills of blindness. In this way, trust in the skills is developed through use of the senses of touch and sound.

Drill for Skill: Skills to Encourage at Home and School

1. Locating Dropped Objects 
Protective and searching techniques of hands and cane to locate objects dropped.

2. Sidewalk Walking
Locating objects at curbside and building side.

3. Traffic
Identifying parallel and perpendicular traffic.

4. Intersections
What controls an intersection (stop sign, traffic guard, light, one way, etc.)?

5. Concept of Block
Going around the block, four corners, etc.

6. Cardinal Directions
Learning about north, south, east, and west, using a compass, sun location, street references, etc.

7. Exploring and Discovery
Place a high value on exploring the environment in ways that will enable the child to discover information and the relationships between objects, places, and him/herself.

School Skills

The child will learn about the school environment as children with sight learn: through discovery, exploring, practice, and age-appropriate experiences. The list below includes some of the skill areas to keep in mind.

1. Hallway walking

2. Line walking

3. Steps

4. Lunch time, recess, etc.

5. Playground and play equipment

6. Going through doors, managing the cane, holding the door for others, etc.

7. Locating the bathroom and age-appropriate bathroom skills

8. Fire drill independence and safety procedures

9. Taking messages to the office, other classrooms, etc.

10. Walking in pairs, in groups, and independently, to destinations in the school

11. To and from the school bus, steps on bus, taking a seat, managing the cane, emergency routine on the bus (evacuation procedure)

12. Taking a seat in the auditorium, walking up and down the aisle, on the stage, etc.


Like any other child who needs to learn these tasks, the blind child needs experience and practice, particularly on the skills of blindness that will enable the child to perform these tasks. (Blindness is the reason to learn these skills.*) Common sense and the alternative techniques of blindness will help to ensure that the blind child will be a full participant in life.

For the blind child with multiple disabilities who may not be able to do some skills in an age-appropriate manner, consider their developmental age. They should be doing the skills appropriate to that level independently. The blind child with additional disabilities is even more vulnerable than the blind child who develops typically because others tend to do more for them than they should. These children are then prevented from learning tasks they could learn to do for themselves.

*Blindness is never an excuse to not learn these skills.

Additional Info

  • Topic: Cane Travel and Mobility
  • Age Group: Early Years, Any Age