Adult with a Visual Impairment Describes Learning to Use the White Cane While Using a Motorized Wheelchair As a Teen

Editor’s Note: Ms. Kim Shepherd shares her experience learning Orientation and Mobility while using her motorized wheelchair in hopes that children and teens with multiple disabilities pursue O&M training. Thank you, Kim!

collage of children using white canes, and the slogan Keep Calm, It's Just a Cane

To the FamilyConnect family,

I received Orientation and Mobility training in 1977, at age 15, while attending Chico Junior High School in Chico, California, thanks to the brilliance and compassion of Mr. Jerry Early, a teacher for the visually impaired and mobility specialist. I asked Mr. Early if it would be possible for me to learn to use a white cane to travel independently like my classmates despite my severe cerebral palsy, which made walking extremely difficult and slow for me. He had the idea of my using a motorized wheelchair, allowing me to have my right arm and hand free to learn to navigate with a cane. Before O&M training began, I spent about 14 days learning to operate a motorized wheelchair safely with the help of a marvelous physical therapist named Marsha Davis.

Mr. Early was very patient teaching a very clumsy and stubborn 15-year-old visually impaired kid with physical disabilities independent travel. The only thing different about my cane travel technique from my classmates was that I used an extra-long white cane so I would not accidentally hit my feet, which were elevated because of my wheelchair’s height. It helped me locate curbs four to five feet before my front wheels touched them so my chair would not tip over. Prior to using a mobility cane I never left my yard because I became frustrated injuring myself running into things I could not see.

I then spent about half the school day traveling and studying under blindfold to sharpen my echolocation, cooking, and braille reading skills.

I’m so grateful for training under blindfold because it helped me deal with the practical and psychological issues of changing vision throughout my adult life due to complications from retinopathy of prematurity (ROP) and cataract surgery. O&M also gave me the confidence and ability to work with professionally trained guide dogs from my wheelchair for 13 years after severe arthritis in my shoulders prevented me from using a cane to travel independently. It has opened up my world!

Kim Shepherd

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