Mobility Training: How not to fall down a hole
Yesterday I went to the RNIB resource centre near Kings Cross Station in London and got myself a new cane. This I was able to do on my own because when I was young I was given “Mobility Training”. I thought I’d describe what this training involved and how important it is to me today.
I first started proper mobility training when I was eight. I remember when I met my Mobility Officer, I was very shy at first! But it’s worth remembering that Mobility Officers are trained specifically to put you at ease, and they will have worked with a lot of people with different disabilities before, so they’ll be fine if you are a bit nervous starting like I was. But I very quickly built up a good working relationship with my Mobility Officer and it made what can for a lot of people – including me! – be a very daunting process – a lot less painful and more rewarding!
I was introduced to a symbol cane around this time too (a small cane held out in front of the person to show others that they are visually impaired).
Between the ages of 12-16, I found mobility training really difficult because I was busy rejecting using my symbol cane! This wasn’t because I didn’t want to be independent but more because with a symbol cane, I found that it looked as though I was asking for help, rather than getting around by myself! I found this incredibly frustrating as a young person. One tip I would give to anyone who has a Mobility Officer, Rehabilitation Officer or carer, is to discuss your ideas with the person providing your care and make sure you’re as involved in your Care Plan as possible. My friend who has cerebral palsy suggested to one of her carers that they went for coffee on a regular basis just to ‘check-in’ and catch up to make sure that the activities her carer was helping her with were working for my friend. This is a really good relaxed way to discuss any issues that may come up.
Thankfully for me, I’d become a lot more confident and opinionated by this point! So I felt a lot more able to tell my Mobility Officer what I wanted, what was working – and what wasn’t!
When I was sixteen, I asked my Mobility Officer to consider letting me use a long cane. He was understandably reluctant at first because of my rejection of the symbol cane earlier on! However, I persisted and eventually my trainer allowed me to start long cane training. If you are going to use a long cane, it’s really important that you receive proper training as I was lucky enough to (or any other piece of mobility equipment!). My friend who has cerebral palsy got training to be able to use her powered wheelchair and said it really helped her to get the most out of it.
Using my long cane became a key factor in building my confidence in getting out and about. Although I don’t always feel the need to use it, it’s great to know that it’s always an option if I really need it – and sometimes it’s invaluable! If it’s dark. I use guide cane technique – where you hold the cane diagonally across your body for protection and to scan for curbs and steps. If I’m travelling in the day time, I usually roll the cane from side to side as you get better tactile feedback through the handle.
I’m lucky in that I can choose when it’s appropriate for me to use my cane but some people, like my friend, don’t have a choice in using their mobility equipment, which is why it’s so important to have correct training.
Stop!!! What Needs Changing?!
By using my long cane and limited vision, as well as mobility training around my University too, I now access everything that I want to – clubbing, shopping, bar crawls, the cinema…you name it, I’ve probably been there! There are a few changes I’d like to see made to mobility services and equipment though!
Firstly the look of a cane isn’t very appealing! There has been some headway in making them look more attractive- you can get canes with coloured handles, tips and reflective paint! The trouble with these is that both mobility officers I’ve spoken to say that they don’t look enough like ‘canes’ and that the public don’t recognise them as much as they would do if they are completely white. So I’ve always given the colours a miss, which is a shame. I’d like to see a compromise – a cane should be a fashionable accessory if it needs to be one at all!
The other thing I’d change is introducing children to their mobility equipment earlier. I had to wait until I was sixteen to be introduced to a long cane. This wasn’t anyone’s fault, as everyone involved did what they thought was best for me at the time, but this is an all too familiar story. My mobility officer at University agreed with me, saying that the earlier you introduce children to something, the less of a big deal is made of it so they don’t feel any embarrassment and it is ‘normalised’ to them very quickly. This has a knock-on effect to other people’s attitudes and opinions of disability from when they are young, which can only be a good thing! I’ve heard of many experiences from powered wheelchair users, including my friend, saying that the equipment takes a long time to get hold of as it’s availability on the NHS is inconsistent. This needs changing too.
Although the world of mobility training and equipment is fantastic and at times life-changing for those with disabilities, there’s still a bit more work to do in order to make the service perfect – for Mobility Officers, carers and – most importantly – the service users.
Do you access mobility training or independent living support? We’d love to hear your thoughts.
Tags: Disability Access
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