The Real-Life ‘Batman’ Fights For Lily-Grace Hooper’s Right To Use A Long Navigation Cane And Asks:“Who’s Really Getting In Whose Way?
Perhaps no one is better qualified to weigh-in and provide professional advice to both sides in the debate over a blind 7 year-old UK girl’s right to use a long navigation in school than Daniel Kish. He calls it a human right.
Daniel holds two Masters degrees, Life-Span Developmental Psychology from California State University, San Bernardino, and Special Education from Cal. State Los Angeles. Daniel also holds two current national certificates in orientation and mobility – Certificated Orientation and Mobility Specialist (COMS), since 1996, and National Orientation and Mobility Certificant (NOMC), since 2005. He is the first blind person to obtain the COMS, and also the first to obtain both certificates.
Less formally, he’s known around the world as ‘The Real Life Batman‘ for his self-developed form of echolocation that he calls ‘FlashSonar™‘, a humanized form of sonar similar to that used by bats and dolphins to navigate in the dark by sending out high-pitched clicking sounds.
Why did Daniel develop this technique and what’s all of this got to do with Lily-Grace’s case? You’ll get the fascinating answers in the following video of Daniel’s presentation at the main international TED 2015 Conference in Vancouver. Then we’ll follow that with why he’s best qualified to comment on what’s shaping up to be “Canegate” in Bristol, England, and the scientific justification for Lily-Grace’s use of a long cane.
Daniel Kish, Founder and President of 15 year-old Long Beach, California-based World Access For The Blind is speaking out on behalf of 7 year-old Bristol student Lily-Grace Hooper who was banned from using her white navigation cane at school because it may pose a danger to others.
Daniel asks the rhetorical question, “Is the danger from the navigation cane or more from the ill-informed and ill-experienced ‘health and safety’ regulators?”
Daniel and his Perceptual Navigation Instructors have provided long-cane training and FlashSonar™ Echolocation training to thousands of students and families in the United States and around the world, and to over 60 students and families in the U.K through about two dozen workshops since 2007, including 12 children below the age of 4.
As Daniel says, “I regard perception as a sovereign right, not to be infringed upon because it may seem inconvenient.
I have found that blind people and their sighted peers, children and adults alike, learn to accommodate the longer cane when it is respectfully regarded as a part of natural function.
Blind students learn to consider the presence of their cane with respect to others, and sighted people learn to respect that presence. If these concerns persist in a given setting, some education provided to peers should resolve the matter.
Longer canes can become awkward in congested environments. Congested technique usually resolves this, and I find children accommodate this quite well. Concerns are sometimes raised about the cane getting in people’s way.
At the risk of sounding militant, who’s getting in whose way?”
It’s Daniel Kish’s passionate belief that any child who is blind from the early years should learn to use a long cane as soon as they can walk. He has met many parents desperate to help their young children, but unable to find the support they want in their local area. He has also met other parents with older children, who say they wish they had known of his approach sooner.
In his view, withholding cane training until age seven or above is likely to cause long-term damage to the child’s mobility and independence. He calls this “dependency training” because “it fosters dependency at the age when a child should be achieving self direction.”
Daniel explains, “I worked with an 18 month old child who would only crawl when not holding on to someone. However, when she was offered the adult cane, she began taking control of the cane within minutes to gauge surface gradients and the height of steps. Within half an hour, she had wrested the cane from her dad’s hand, and was given one more appropriate to her size.”
Here he explains his unconventional approach which he calls “perceptual mobility training”. He defines this as: “Engaging the whole brain in a developmentally natural manner that activates the perceptual imaging system by fostering self directed freedom of discovery. Rather than trying to push a contrived set of skills into the student, we stimulate the imaging system to manifest skills as they are needed. It is not a collection of skills that make perception happen; it is perception that compels skills to develop.”
The Perceptual Imaging System
“Perception occurs in two stages – awareness and imaging. Awareness simply refers to the stimulus knowledge that something is present to the senses. Imaging occurs when this awareness takes on form and substance in a person’s mind. An image doesn’t need to be visual; it can be tactile or auditory as well.
For example, a young boy moving his cane touched my shoe and said, ‘I just touched someone’s shoe.’ It is one thing to know that your cane has touched something, but something about the boy’s perception of the sensation told him, not just that he’d touched something, but that it was a shoe. The brain can build images drawn from any sensory input, and any experience.”
Choosing a cane for a small child
There are as many types of canes and ways to use them as there are body types and ways of moving. These are general guidelines based on over 15 years work with many thousands of students, teachers and families of every type in nearly 40 countries, and my expertise in perceptual development. I and other instructors adopting this approach have found that it successfully activates the brain’s recognition and acceptance of the cane as a natural perceptual extension.
We use what I call a perception cane, which has the following qualities:
A certain distance of perception is needed to activate the imaging system. For this the cane should be about as long as the child is tall. Sighted people use their eyes to scan several steps ahead.
A blind child, who has shorter arms and may move more quickly and erratically than an adult, will need a long enough cane to perceive advance information about the way ahead. This allows time for the brain to receive and process all the information it needs to make decisions on moving around.
The cane is a delicate instrument, like an antenna, and should be as light as possible. In order to be recognised and accepted by the brain as a natural perceptual extension, the cane should not be cumbersome or awkward.
I do not usually recommend roller tips or other heavy tips. A big tip may seem easier, but it can only go so far toward covering up technique that lacks finesse.
As a perceptual extension, the cane should convey as much information as possible with as much ease as possible. For children I generally recommend rigid, non-folding canes. They are generally lighter, sturdier, and more conductive. They are also less likely to lead to “folded cane syndrome” in which the cane spends more time folded and stowed away than actually in use. I also do not generally recommend foam cane grips, as these tend to insulate the hand from sensations.
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