I first wrote this review in 2004 but it got lost somewhere during site moves etc. I will hopefully post a number of pages and reviews that have been lost over time during the next week or two.
A mobility aid to be used in conjunction with either a Cain or Guide Dog
The Miniguide is a device which detects objects within a maximum distance of four meters. It is about the size of a box of matches with two small round sensors at the front. There are two versions: Type 1 gives audible feedback using a combination of tones to help judge the distance between objects. The second type uses vibrations. The closer you get to an object the faster the vibrations pulse. These two versions can allow a person who is blind to, (with practise,) confidently judge the distance between their surroundings and the aid.
Since having the aid I have tried to use it in as many different environments as possible using both Guide dog and Cain. Below are some of the experiences I’ve had with it.
In conjunction with the Cain this is a powerful tool that when utilized to its full potential can greatly decrease the number of obstacles you come in direct contact with. However it does take time and practise to recognise distance by relying on pulses. For this reason I started using the Miniguide on a reasonably straight route with a minimum of major obstacles. The first thing that I noticed when using the four meter setting was the dependability of this small device. After the third time of walking the route I had determined that trees planted on a grass verge could give me a more accurate land mark for finding crossings and eventually without noticing it I was walking down the centre of the foot path keeping the wall on my left at a good distance by keeping the pulses at a steady rate. A quick wave of my left hand bought the trees on my other side in view. From counting trees along the road to finding the corner the Miniguide is just as responsive and helpful. Following the wall on one side and waiting for the pulses to stop signifying the end of the obstacle I was able to confidently turn the corner while remaining roughly in the centre of the path. Finding openings for example door ways can take a bit more practise. Users should become familiar with the four main levels of sensitivity before attempting this. It is also important to note that the further away from an opening the harder it becomes to detect. This is because as the beam radiates from the front of the device, it gets wider. Thus that on the four meter setting standing four meters away from an opening that is three meters wide will result in the beam hitting off the sides therefore if you are not sure an opening exists you will miss it. This is not a design flaw. It has been made part of the features of the unit. The developers say that it is better to miss an opening than to miss a narrow object such as a pole or tree. I have suggested that in other versions of the unit an option be given to users to change the width of the beam as well as the length.
In conjunction with a guide dog this aid can drastically improve a persons confidence when navigating around off curb obstacles. ] Off curb obstacles are obstacles which do not allow the guide dog and handler to pass without stepping off the curb. Although the majority of obstacles are easily negotiable in other words guide dogs are trained to guide the handler around them, some obstacles demand a bit more awareness of the general area before a guide dog user can comfortably give the appropriate commands to his or her dog. The Miniguide can help by giving the user an accurate understanding of the distance between the obstacle and the unit and can also ensure the dog is choosing the best route around. It is important to stress that the Miniguide will only give you a certain amount of information about the area. Remember that the dog has most likely chosen the best route around the obstacle. I strongly suggest that the unit only be used to further increase your confidence while navigating around these obstacles. Another advantage to using this aid is when learning new routes. As the Miniguide is an obstacle detector it can help you follow land marks such as trees, poles, bins and other similar structures. On a recent stay in Dublin a group of Friends and I was staying in a Bed and Breakfast which did not have any discernable land marks around it. The best way of finding the house was by counting the number of trees located on the outer curb. The path was approximately two meters wide and each tree was located in a square meter of grass. As my guide dog was new to this area I wanted a backup method of finding the house. Using the Miniguide I was able to count the three trees and one pole. Using that information I could then tell the dog to find the steps to the left which led up to the house.
When in doors the Miniguide can be very distracting. Because it is so sensitive it detects everything in enclosed spaces. Using the half meter mode can drastically reduce this distraction but it leaves you less time to react to the detected obstruction. While using a Cain the guide was most useful in situations where following a wall or even following a person at a fast pace was required. This takes a lot of practise and concentration but once mastered can be very helpful. Again, finding doors using the unit is difficult but very possible with some determination and practise. Using the Miniguide in doors with a guide dog is frankly pointless. Depending on the partnership with your dog of course. While testing the guide I did not have any use for it while in side as my dog was more than capable of guiding me around comfortably. As the areas that I walk around while in doors are generally crowded I felt that spending more time concentrating on the direction that my dog wanted to take me and keeping him relaxed bought better results.
Walking in crowds out side using the Cain and the Miniguide can be very easy with time and practise. The Miniguide is very useful when finding openings that you can walk threw and for detecting stationary pedestrians. Using the Miniguide with a guide dog out side when navigating around crowds can be just as useful. Although I have to stress again that you should not always depend on the information you receive from the Miniguide it can be useful for detecting openings in crowds.
I have warned you to be ware while using the Miniguide in conjunction with a guide dog after consulting the Irish guide dogs for the Blind. A guide dog generally knows more about the area that you are in than you. Giving him or her commands that they can’t carry out may damage their confidence. The Miniguide can be a very useful tool but only when adequate time and practise is allotted to using it. If you are considering using this unit in conjunction with either a Cain or a guide dog you should contact a trainer qualified in the area of guide dog or Cain mobility.