Put That Hand Down: Stopping the Use of Protective-Hand Techniques

23 Jun
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Liz Wisecarver, MA, NOMC

Liz Wisecarver, MA, NOMC

Liz earned her master’s in Orientation and Mobility from Louisiana Tech University after attending the adult training program at the Louisiana Center for the Blind. She currently lives in Oxford, Miss. and teaches cane travel to public school students.

Conventionally-trained orientation and mobility (O&M) instructors teach students to use protective-hand techniques, which consist of holding the arm in front of the face or belly, palm out, to locate obstacles.

While there are a few appropriate times to temporarily use these techniques, such as holding the hand in front of the face when bending down under a table or while walking under hanging branches, protective techniques are rarely necessary on a daily basis while traveling with a long, white cane. Furthermore, they are inappropriate. Students walking with an outstretched hand may accidentally grab someone, get their hand caught in a door and will look awkward to others.

Both young and adult students who have been taught to use protective-hand techniques will need to be reminded why they should keep their hands down. During challenging situations like crowded or unfamiliar places, you may notice that they begin to use these techniques without realizing it. Whether you are a cane travel instructor, teacher of blind students, para-professional or an educator working with blind students, you can show students more appropriate alternatives to holding the hand out that, over time, will help break the habit.

Use both hands on the cane

Little ones tend to experiment with using the cane with both hands, grasping the handle at the same time. This not only helps eliminate protective-hand techniques, but it also naturally brings the cane to the center of the body. As Dr. Fred Schroeder explained in the monthly magazine Future Reflections, children will not use the cane in the same manner as adult students; rather, they will develop proper technique by first exploring how the cane can be used as a tool. As they mature and are better able to learn more aspects of proper cane technique, you can transition them to using only one hand on their cane and leave the other at their side.

Hold a familiar toy

Young children may enjoy holding a favorite toy or item in the free hand. This helps keep the child from using outstretched arms, helps the child practice using the cane in one hand rather than switching between the two, and may serve as a comfort in stressful situations. The toy, of course, will not be used as the child grows older, but it can be a useful way to help children break bad protective-hand technique habits in a more enjoyable way.

Keep the hand in a pocket

Older children and adults won’t walk with both hands on the cane or a plush toy in one hand, but they may feel like they have nowhere to put their free hand! Encourage them to put the free hand into a pocket. This is much more socially acceptable than reaching forward, and this practice will help students recognize when they begin to “unconsciously” lift up their hand.

Rest the free hand over the wrist of the cane hand

A teenage student of mine gracefully rested her free hand over the wrist of her cane hand as she walked. She told me another instructor suggested that she do this when she felt the urge to use protective-hand techniques. This, like having the hand in the pocket, is an appropriate gesture that does not draw attention to oneself. Another benefit is that it helps keep the cane hand centered, much in the same way that younger children using both hands on the cane keeps the cane in the middle of the body.

The urge to use protective-hand techniques is a tough habit for students of any age to break. A gentle reminder goes a long way, but I hope that these alternative techniques will be successful for you and your students. As they gain more confidence and awareness, this tendency will decrease in frequency and lead toward a safer, more appropriate option.

The following two tabs change content below.
Liz Wisecarver, MA, NOMC

Liz Wisecarver, MA, NOMC

Liz earned her master’s in Orientation and Mobility from Louisiana Tech University after attending the adult training program at the Louisiana Center for the Blind. She currently lives in Oxford, Miss. and teaches cane travel to public school students.

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