Using the Cain and the KSonar in different hands.

I’ve a new technique for using the Cain and the KSonar.

First, let me explain what both are to those of you who don’t know.

A Cain is a mobility aid used by people who are blind or who have very low vision. It is an obstacle detector. A user holds the Cain in front of them with the tip touching the ground. As the person walks the Cain is moved from side to side. When their left foot goes forward, the Cain is moved to the right about four to five inches past their right side. When they put their right foot forward, the Cain scans across to the left again passing about four to five inches past their left side. The Cain is usually long enough to reach the users chest bone so that there is enough length to scan in front of the user and give them time to react to obstacles in front of them without being too long as to cause it to be a hindrance to other pedestrians. There are two main forms of Cain technique. Rolling and tapping. There are benefits to each that I won’t go into right now. My preferred method is rolling. Each method requires a different tip to be used at the bottom of the Cain.

A KSonar operates on a similar principle to that of the Cain in that is an obstacle detector. However, instead of actually touching the obstacle, the KSonar alerts the user to its presents via audio. The KSonar uses Ultra sonic to determine the distance between it and an object. Its advantage over other electronic mobility aids of this type is it provides more information than just proximity. It can give you auditory clues as to what the object is. Railings sound different compared to a brick wall. People sound different to cars etc. It has two scanning options. One scans a metre and a half away and the other scans a smaller distance of a half a meter. While using the short range scan, it is easier to determine exactly where the obstacle is.

The KSonar has a moulded body that is designed to fit nicely onto the grip of a Cain however with over a year experience using this device; I find that this is totally unsuitable. The area I scan with the Cain is different to that I generally want to scan with the KSonar. Also, when using a roller tip on the Cain it gets stuck in cracks in foot paths. This is a standard issue with Cain usage but it is a major problem when using the KSonar grip instead of gripping the Cain directly as the KSonar gets loose after some time.

My preferred method of walking around with a Cain and the KSonar is to hold each in a different hand. Walking with the Cain in my right hand, I hold the KSonar with my left. I use the Cain as per the description above and I reverse the scan of the KSonar so that when my right foot goes forward and the Cain scans left, the KSonar is scanning off to my right side about a foot and a half. Same if my left foot goes forward. The Cain scans to my right and the KSonar scans way off to my left about a foot and a half the other direction.

This hugely increases my efficiency while using the Cain. I don’t need to physically touch the wall or railing that I’m following. I can touch it using the ultra sonic used by the KSonar. Once the tone on that side remains constant, I know I’m continuing in a straight line. I scan in the same way I’d scan using a Cain so I can still get feedback of what is around me before I get to it with the Cain. This means that the Cain is working normally but I’m only really using it to scan the surface I’m walking on to make sure I can find steps and uneven paths. The KSonar is actually doing all the obstacle avoidance. This takes an enormous amount of concentration but it’s worth it in my opinion. While walking past the wall of Trinity College for example, there are always people waiting on busses. It’s hard to follow this wall with a Cain or even the KSonar but by angling the KSonar up a little, I’ve found I can follow the railing over people’s heads. I can also continue walking in the centre of the path and with a quick scan to my other side, I can watch out for poles etc too. Of course, if the KSonar misses something. Or, rather, if I miss something with the KSonar, the Cain will find it before I do. Hopefully anyway. The thing I find with the Cain is I can use it on auto pilot when using the KSonar to do most of the work. It’s only when the surface changes or I find a step or even if I’m looking for a change in the surface that my mind focuses on it.

I’ve heard people saying that the KSonar is a distraction and it doesn’t provide enough feedback to alert you to oncoming obstacles but I disagree. With the right kind of ear phones, some willingness to learn how to use it correctly, the patients to walk into a few things at the start you’ll find it’s a fantastic aid to your mobility.

I’m not trying to promote the KSonar. I’m just talking rubbish to let you know how I’m getting around at the moment. It’s a big difference going from a guide dog to a Cain. I miss the fluidity of being guided by a dog. There are no straight lines when using a Cain. You always really need to follow something unless you know the area particularly well. The KSonar has given me back some of this fluidity so I’m quite happy.