Lindsey’s Cane Story

What is tall and thin and wears only red with white?  

That would be me – Daisy.  My purpose in life is to help others and my partner in this work is Miss Lindsey.  Together we travel and can do great things!  We believe we can change the world!

Cane on a wood porch

Cane on a wood porch

Lindsey has Low Vision, and at times, when she is using her eyes to look up and find our path, she doesn’t see the floor, or things like curbs and drop-offs.  That’s my job – protecting her from things she does not see.  Lindsey’s job is to learn, explore and help us change the world!

Lindsey is in high school and learning to do more things on her own.  She likes shopping, exploring and working some too.  She is learning many new things to prepare her for life after school.  Right now, Lindsey and I get to walk around some really neat places and meet some really interesting people, as she tries to figure out exactly what she would like to do for her job after High School.

Recently, Lindsey, her travel trainer and I sat down to talk together about why our partnership is so important to Lindsey. 

Blind woman traveling with white cane

Blind woman traveling with white cane

Lindsey explained that my most important job is to help her walk safely, find obstacles and not trip.  When we work together, she swings me from side to side to clear her path, and if I find something, I let her know.  When we find steps or curbs, I drop down low and Lindsey knows to stop.  If I bump into an obstacle, we stop, take a look, and find another path.  In this way, I take care of the looking at the ground and Lindsey takes care of deciding where we go.  

We have been taking a lot of time to learn how to PLAN our trips too.  Lindsey is learning how to make mental map pictures of the areas in which we travel.  Mental Mapping is Really Cool.  When Miss Lindsey needs to travel from one place to another, she takes a minute to think about her route, shares it with me, and then together we travel, looking for the clues and landmarks along the way – so as to not get lost.  Sometimes I help her find the down low landmarks and she helps me to find the up high ones.

small map

Street map with short route

When we talked about what was most challenging for Lindsey and I working together, Lindsey shared that it was all the questions people asked her about me, her cane.  She shared that sometimes people question why she needs a partner to travel around and this makes her upset.  Lindsey shared that she is grown-up now and old enough to start making some of her own decisions.  She shared that she is the only one who knows how she sees best and that she really wishes people would trust her decisions when it comes to working with me when we travel around.

Recently, Lindsey, her family and I went on a really cool trip – we took a ship out onto the ocean!  We visited some really interesting places and got off the ship here and there to explore.  Lindsey shared that when travelling in new places she really feels best when I am by her side.  Sometimes, the paths are rough, and the area is not familiar; when I can come along and help her find the bumps and drops, she feels a lot more confident and happy.  

lindsey from the back with cane

Lindsey using Daisy to find a curb

As we talked with Lindsey about some of the new places we will be travelling to in the next few months, she got really excited!  We talked about learning how to cross streets downtown, how to explore some new places to learn about work and maybe how we could look at what kinds of jobs she and I can do together.  Lindsey and I understand that to be safe AND independent moving forward, we are going to have to work hard together as a team.  My bright white and red uniform helps others to see us and to know that they have to be more careful, especially if we are in the crosswalk.

One of the things we are MOST excited about is teaching others about our relationship.  We are the perfect team.  We talked about how everyone needs special tools to do their jobs and get work done.  I am one of those special tools!  And I think that Miss Lindsey and I make a great team.  I can’t wait for others to see us in action and to better understand how we can work together to keep Miss Lindsey safe AND help her be the best young person she can be.  Keep Your Eyes Open.  We will see you soon!

Article from The Economist – White Cane 2.0

Interesting article from The Economist regarding White Cane alternative.

This article appeared in the Science and technology section of the print edition under the headline “White cane 2.0”

Helping blind people navigate

White cane 2.0

A new way to assist those with poor eyesight

Dr Rus’s device, of which she demonstrated a prototype on June 1st at the International Conference on Robotics and Automation in Singapore, consists of a camera worn on a lanyard around the neck, and a belt. A computer inside the camera creates a three-dimensional image of the area ahead of the wearer, processes it to extract relevant information, and uses the results to pass on appropriate signals via the belt.

Dr Rus knew from previous attempts to build devices of this sort that what might seem the obvious way of manifesting those signals, namely as sounds with specific meanings, was not, in fact, a good approach. Blind people depend a lot on their hearing and do not like it when newfangled devices hamper this sense with beeps and clicks. Hence the belt, which has five vibrating motors installed in it. One sits over the centre of the wearer’s abdomen. The others flank this central motor, with two spaced out on either side of it.

That configuration permits the computer to warn a wearer when he is on a collision course with an obstacle. It does so by telling the motor pointing most closely in the direction of the obstacle to vibrate. If the wearer is walking towards a wall, for example, the central motor vibrates softly when he comes within a couple of metres of it. If he ignores this, perhaps because he actually wants to reach the wall, the computer increases the amplitude as he closes in, giving him a good idea of exactly how far away he is. Similarly, if he is in danger of bumping, say, his right shoulder on a door frame while walking from one room to another, the right-most motor on the belt will warn him of the impending collision. And it works. When compared with navigation by white cane in one of MIT’s famously crowded hallways, it reduced blind students’ collisions with others by 86%.

The new system can, however, do more than just help someone walk around without collisions, for the belt incorporates a touchpad that is inscribed with instructions in Braille. This permits the user to program it to perform specific tasks.

For example, Dr Rus knew that blind students often struggle to find an empty seat in a crowded lecture theatre. Adding an appropriate algorithm to the computer’s software helps get around this by enabling it to recognise chairs, and also whether or not a chair is occupied. In this case, the motors are used to indicate a direction to be travelled in, rather than one to be avoided. Activating the algorithm using the touchpad causes the motor pointing most closely towards an empty chair to vibrate when the system spots one.

Good vibrations

In trials involving a room that contained an empty chair, an occupied chair and also a recycling bin, the algorithm directed the belt-wearer straight to the empty chair 80% of the time. Cane users presented with the same arrangement always found the empty chair eventually, but in doing so came into contact with objects other than their target more than five times as often as those using the camera and belt.

Whether a camera (ideally, smaller than the one in the prototype) and a belt could replace a cane completely remains to be seen. In particular, Dr Rus’s system does lack one important feature of Biggs’s innovation. A white cane not only helps a blind person to navigate, it also signals his condition to the rest of the world, allowing others to adjust their behaviour accordingly. As a supplementary aid, however, her approach seems most promising.

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