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A letter from a GDB Graduate: 

I was recently asked to explain the difference between using a white cane and walking with a guide dog.  It was a good question and I had to think before answering.  The difference is dramatic.  Using a white cane requires nearly complete focus.  You use your arm, your wrist, and your fingers when sweeping the white cane in front of you.  Your are constantly checking for boundaries and feeling for obstacles.  The white cane must just skim the surface of the area in front of you.  If the sidewalk has an uneven surface the cane can snag on a crack or a raised surface.  This will cause the cane to stop but since your body is still moving forward the handle of the cane will jab you in the stomach.  This is rather unpleasant and avoiding this requires constant focus on the feel of the cane.  Also any obstacle that is knee high or above, and does not extend to the ground, will not be detected in time to avoid a collision.  So, the going is rather slow and the constant sweeping and delicate touch of the white cane requires nearly complete focus. 

With a guide dog you are suddenly free to experience your surroundings.  I am no longer focused on checking for boundaries and feeling for obstacles, that’s my guides job.  As I walk with my guide I can listen to the wind as it rustles the leaves in the tree.  I can hear the birds singing and I can feel the sun on my face.  It is an experience as close as I will ever be to having sight. 

There is another difference, maybe less dramatic but still very significant, and that is the social aspect.  In the 10 or so years that I used a white cane I never had anyone walk up to me and say “That’s a great looking white cane that you have there”, or “I used to have one just like that, aren’t they great”.  People were helpful but it was extremely rare for anyone to want to stop and talk.  It is a very nice feeling when someone walks up and says “that’s a great looking dog you have there”.  This is often followed by a 5 or 10 minute conversation.  They introduce themselves and I have a new acquaintance and after a time some of those acquaintances become new friends. And, of course, the most significant new friend is the incredible, amazing, and wonderful guide dog that I received from Guide Dogs for the Blind 10 years ago.



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