The 2 Stick Method
A Proposal for Social Distance Guiding.
David Griffith suggests a solution to the dilemma of Social Distance Guiding of Visually Impaired People.
One of the more distressing aspects of the Covid 19 Lockdown was the initial incongruity of maintaining Social Distance measures whilst at the same time providing necessary assistance with guiding Visually Impaired passengers and shoppers. The difficulty in the early days made for sad accounts of some blind or partially sighted shopper encountering store staff shouting at them to “stand over there”, in increasingly angry and panicky tones. The instruction to “stand over there” of course means nothing to somebody who cannot see a staff member pointing. There were even sadder accounts of Blind customers being prevented from entering shops. In these situation the task of guiding was thought too dangerous for staff to provide. This difficulty was compounded by the initial reluctance of Supermarkets to accept that Blind or Visually Impaired People were eligible for scant priority shopping delivery slots.
Thankfully as the weeks have passed adjustments have been made and the accounts of Blind and Partially sighted people not being able to access shopping has decreased. However, as the government moves to ease lock down measures it is likely that the tension between maintaining social safe social distance and safe guiding will again emerge.
Transport and Shop Staff may show entirely understandable reluctance to engage in the close physical contact required for the physical guiding of sight impaired people. There are reports, for example, that currently Transport for London staff are resolving this dilemma by arranging for Taxis to pick up sight impaired customers rather than undertake the tasks of guiding them onto and off trains and through stations. Whilst Transport for London are to be congratulated for devising this current adjustment which protects both passengers and staff, it is unlikely to be an appropriate model going forward, not just for the next few months but over the next 2 years. What, for example, as the lock down eases, would be the arrangement to support a Blind passenger taking train journey for much longer distances of a hundred miles or more?
What is urgently needed is a protocol to structure a method for safe social distance guiding. On the face of it this is a circle which is difficult to square with contradictory requirements. happily, though we, in my family, have unwittingly deployed a safe social distance guiding method for years. We call this the “2 stick method”.
This idea was initially suggested to me by another sight impaired friend, Rob Murthwaite as a method to assist country walks through narrow, rough, and difficult terrain. , From this initial inspiration This method is something I have developed with my wife , Sue, to great effect over the years.
Essentially the method relies on the sight impaired person carrying not one but two white canes.
1. One cane is kept clear of normal floor contact and is only used for guiding purposes with a sighted guide.
2 The second cane is retained by the sight impaired person in their other hand, for normal use, but in this context, mainly as an insurance policy. For example, to provide emergency stability support in case of stumbles or for extra confidence when encountering pavement kerns, steps and potholes etc.
3. The “guiding cane” is held, in my case, in the left hand with the handle resting on my open palm. It is important that the handle is not grasped, as this makes the experience difficult, both for sighted guide and sight impaired person.
4. The tip of the clean cane is then held by the sighted guide, also with their left hand. The sighted guide then simply walks forward with the sight impaired person following immediately behind them but of course distanced by the cane.
5. Whilst this technically does not comply with the 6-foot distance requirements of social distancing this is importantly mitigated by the fact that neither the sighted guide nor the sight impaired person are directly facing each other. The sighted guide will be facing forward away from the sight impaired person, whilst the sight impaired person would look not to the face but the back of their sighted guide. This would greatly reduce the risk of virus transmission, a risk further reduced if both the sighted guide and sight impaired person wear face masks.
6. Over the years I have found the best method is not for the person being guided to grasp the cane handle but to let it rest in the open palm of the hand. This means I can feel the cane moving as the guide changes directions and can adjust appropriately. The guide also seems to find it easier if I do not grasp the cane. If the cane is grasped the sighted guide will feel as if the visually impaired person is trying to steer them from behind.
7. The further advantage of this approach is that the guiding of the sight impaired person is naturally narrow rather than wide, making it easier to guide through narrow areas.
This was in fact the reason that my wife developed this guiding method, in order to guide me through long narrow country walks. In practice, it is like guide Dog guiding. I personally prefer this to normal sighted guiding via arm holding.
Obviously, a full guiding protocol to support this technique is required.
There are a myriad of guiding situations which need consideration. For example, how to guide to a chair, how to guide to a Car door handle. My initial protocol suggestion is that In most cases the sighted guide would simply have to place the guide cane tip on the target, for example, door handle of a car or the back of a chair for another example, before letting go of the guide cane. then the sight impaired person would simply have to travel their hand along the guide cane to the target that the sighted guide has left the tip of the cane resting on. A similar technique could be deployed to provide a lead to the hand rail of stairs.
A further protocol requirement would be to provide guidance on the sanitizing of the guide cane, probably involving the application of alcohol gel both before and after its use as a guide cane.
At the very least I think the main Visual Impairment organizations should be organizing some trials of this method to investigate it practicality and possible implementation as a technique for social distance guiding.
Whilst a fuller protocol would need the support of trialing and testing with full consultation of stakeholders an initial guidance could quickly emerge to support both sighted guides and sight impaired people in these challenging times.
My challenge to the Visual Impairment sector is to take up this idea and run with it or suggest alternative proposals as a matter of urgency.