Blind World Magazine

South Africa.
How to get around.

December 13, 2005., South Africa.

One of the biggest obstacles facing blind people is getting around. Using anything from guide dogs to canes, and sonar technologies to binoculars, many difficulties can however be overcome.

Whether you are born blind, or are suddenly losing your sight, mobility training can be invaluable in helping you make use of these technologies to the utmost, thereby maximising your independence.

The white cane

The famous white canes used by blind people around the world are extremely effective. Not only can you easily detect objects in your way, you can also observe changes in the surface texture.

In addition, white canes have become a symbol of blindness, and as such are sometimes also used by people who still have some sight left. Such token canes can help people with poor vision by warning other walkers to get out of the way.

The social magnet

Guide dogs offers an attractive alternative for blind people who are not that adept at using canes. Unlike a stick, they can see, which makes them more capable of adapting to the environment.

But with great power comes great responsibility. Guide dogs are not pets, in any normal sense - they are companions, and in a sense employees. They go with you wherever you go - getting one is a big responsibility.

Thus, even though they may in some ways offer increased independence, this is to some extent offset by the fact that having a dog with you can be cumbersome and limiting.

Furthermore, guide dogs have the added benefit, or drawback, of acting as a social magnet. When out on the town, you are almost invariably bound to be accosted by some animal lover who wants to pat your companion.

According to the South African Guide dogs Association Training a guide dog costs in the range of R7 500.

Picking up the pulses

Some blind people also make use of sonar glasses or sonar canes to increase their mobility.

Similar to the way in which a bat gathers information from its environment, these devices send out pulses, which reflect off objects in the surrounding area. The pulses are then turned into sounds or vibrations, which indicate the location of objects.

Such devices are however still relatively expensive and not widely used.

Knowing where you are

Not walking into obstacles is one part of the mobility problem. Another is knowing where you are, particularly when navigating unknown terrain.

The use of technologies such as the global positioning system, together with sophisticated maps, may soon help people keep track of exactly where they are. Such systems should be able to tell you things such as, "The street to your right is Church Street, and to your left is a cinema."

For people with low vision, specially designed binoculars may offer a simpler solution. These can be invaluable for reading street and shop names.

For more information you can contact the South African National Council for the Blind on (012) 452 3811 or visit their website at

For more information on guide dogs you can contact the South African Guide dogs Association on (011) 705 3512 or visit their website at

(Health24, December 2005)

Source URL:,34049.asp.

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