The dreaded veering when crossing streets issue. . . As COMS, we have all spent hours working with students/clients on how to cross streets in a straight line to find the curb/sidewalk on the other side. Lining up and crossing the street without veering is challenging!
Recently this discussion came again on an O&M listserv. The question was initially posted by an adult cane traveler, who gave permission to share her question and her responses.
“I tend to veer a lot especially when crossing streets, my instructor says this is normal but I still find it annoying. Is this true and if so, is there anything that I can do to prevent it from happening altogether or at least reduce the chances of it happening? If it matters at all, I use a folding cane with a roller ball tip because apparently it works the best on all surfaces.”
Gather more information
In the ideal situation, the COMS would directly observe the person as she crosses the street. In order to correct the issue, first we need to understand what is causing the issue. Some of the things to observe are:
Does the person veer into or away from the intersection?
Does it make a difference if the intersection is on the person’s right or on the left?
What does the person use to line up with at the intersection?
Does the person get a line of direction when crossing an intersection?
Does it matter what kind of curb is at the intersection?
Person’s O&M/cane skills information
How straight is the person’s body when traveling?
Is the cane arc the correct width? Does the cane consistently cover both sides equally?
Where is the cane held in relationship to the body?
Does the person veer when walking down a hallway, sidewalk or through open spaces?
Does the person shoreline or trail the wall or grass line?
Response from adult cane traveler who asked the veering question
“Generally, I veer away from the intersection and it doesn’t seem to matter which side it’s on. Yes, I do veer when I’m walking in other places. I shoreline but also sweep a lot. I use traffic sounds and the curb to line up. It doesn’t seem to matter though a lot of curbs in our area are the same with little lips.”
Editor’s Note: As always, safety is always the first and foremost concern. A COMS should be working with the student/client in person. This post is to help COMS better diagnose and teach straight street crossings. The information in this post can also empower the cane traveler be more self-aware. This post does not replace lessons with a COMS!
In this scenario (question on a listserv), the adult cane traveler is working directly with her COMS. The discussion is to brainstorm and discuss different thoughts about how to cross streets without veering.
Possible reasons for veering and possible solutions
My written response:
I have some thoughts based on many years’ experience as a COMS. Veering is a very common issue! Keep in mind I’m simply brainstorming. Without watching you as you cross a street, it is challenging to identify what is causing you to veer. I’m going to use the terms shorelining/trailing but it could also be touch and drag or 3-point touch (on the sidewalk). Trailing is simply where the cane maintains contact with the wall or grass edge of a sidewalk. Most people use a cane sweep to follow the wall/grass and not trailing, as trailing does not provide protection on the left/other side.
- Shorelining/trailing can cause travelers to turn their shoulders slightlyt to the right (due to the cane trailing the wall/edge on the right side). If the body is even slightly twisted, the traveler will often veer to the right in open spaces.
- Suggestion 1: Check your body alignment by standing with your back against the wall. Your heels, bottom, back, shoulders and head should all touch the wall. If your right shoulder touches but not your left, then you probably have a slight twist to the right. Aligning against the wall will help you “feel” what is a straight body alignment.
- Suggestion 2: Practice walking in a straight line beside a wall without your cane tip arc tapping against the wall. Listen to and use the wall to help you continue straight (echolocation or simply using your senses to be aware that the wall is there). Think about keeping your body in a straight alignment. Then work on traveling in a straight line thru empty space – initially, use an auditory clue and walk to that sound. Practice walking in a straight line down a normal width sidewalk – without your cane tip tapping or bumping into the grass.
- My personal opinion is that trailing/shorelining will cause veering into doorways/hallway intersections inside, and veering into driveways/intersections outside. Unless the traveler is looking for a specific landmark, traveling without trailing/shorelining is best.
- As mentioned by others, having a symmetrical cane arc is also important. Travelers that trail the wall often have less of an arc on the left (away from the wall). A symmetrical cane arc will help you move in a straight line. We teach young students to initially place their left hand on their right wrist to keep their cane/hand in the center of the body, which is helpful for learning to create a symmetrical cane arc. Most adults will choose to have their right hand at the side of their body (a more natural comfortable position!), but then must relearn the cane arc to make a wider sweep on the left side to provide complete coverage and less of an arc to the right. A correct arc coverage will help maintain a straight line of travel.
- Suggestion 1: Ask a friend (or your O&M) to stand in front of you, facing you, with their feet slightly wider than your shoulders. You can gently sweep your cane from side to side using your normal cane arc. Does your cane tip touch both feet? Have the same force when it comes in contact with both feet? This is also good way to understand if your cane arc is too wide, not wide enough, or not symmetrical.
- Lining up with curbs: Most of the curbs in my area will NOT give a good line of direction for a straight street crossing. This is particularly true in small towns/suburbs. Many of the curbs are rounded and often the location of the curb cut, detectable warnings (bumps in the sidewalk), or the sidewalk itself is not in the ideal position for a straight street crossing. If you are crossing the same streets, you can learn the best location and how to use the curb/sidewalk/other landmarks at that specific intersection to line up with. However, this will not help at unfamiliar street crossings. Note: Many curbs appear to feel the same (with a lip), but the difference is that the sidewalk may meet at a 90 degree (T) to the curb, or the sidewalk may meet on the curve of the curb. Lining up where it is curving will definitely cause veering! And those detectable warnings (bumps) are often NOT aligned for straight street crossings.
- Suggestion 1: When walking down the sidewalk, approach the intersection using a straight line of travel. Maintain the line of direction when approaching the curb and waiting for clear street to cross. As I tell my young students, “Plant your feet like a tree!” And do not adjust your feet to line up with the curb.
- Suggestion 2: Another option is to use your cane to check if the curb directly in front of you is curving. If it is, locate where the curb is straight away from the intersection (not curving) with your cane, then clear the sidewalk away from the intersection and move over to where the curb is straight. This solution will not work in every circumstance.
- First step into the street: Many of my students approach the intersection with a straight line of direction, plant their feet, sweep to make sure the first step into the street is clear (no gutter or debris) and then when it is time to cross, the first step into the street is off, causing them to veer.
- Suggestion 1: The first step into the street is critical! If the body is slightly turned to listen to traffic, the step is small, there is a little anxiety about stepping into the street, or for other reasons, that first step is not straight (often the toe is turned in). Most people will always start walking with the same foot. (Typically, right handed people will step with the right foot first – but not always!) If the right foot leads and the toe is turned in, then often the person will veer to the left. Practice taking a good first step – big enough to clear a dip for the gutter or debris and that the foot is in a straight alignment. With my young students, we practiced that first step off the curb multiple times in a row. Some students learned to straighten their feet, while others found it was easier to understand that the first step was consistently crooked and to adjust the second step.
- Walking slowly can cause veering. This is especially true in open spaces, as travelers who are used to trailing/shorelining tend to be less confident and move slower in open spaces.
- Suggestion 1: Walk faster and with confidence!
- Sounds like you are already using traffic sounds for alignment. Good deal!
- It’s helpful to think of a spot directly across the street where you want to go. If you can, practice first on quiet streets. Ask someone to stand at the other side and talk to you or clap so you can travel to that place. With my young kids, after they plant their feet, I ask them to point to the sidewalk on the other side of the street. This way they think about that straight line before stepping off the curb and I can confirm if they have it correctly in their mind.
Additional comments by other COMS
- Glad you mentioned shorelining. I’ve found in over 34 years, people who shoreline the majority of the time, veer as well. Have gone back and worked with them maintaining a straight line of travel without shorelining and they have been able to minimize veering. They have a better feel of what it is like to travel straight. Used a sidewalk with grass on both sides and have them walk and not touch the grass, repetitively. If this is possible. Takes away the fear of going off the curb or a drop off.
- Walking quickly seems to help!
- You say that you “sweep a lot” when you are not shorelining. Do you maintain a relatively symmetrical cane arc covering the area in front of you, or does your arc swing further out to one side or the other? With my students when the cane starts going further out to one side they generally start veering in the same direction. . .
- While it is definitely good to be able to reduce veering, I agree that veering is going to happen sometimes, and that more important than trying to completely eliminate veering is 1) being able to tell that you have veered (and which way) and 2) knowing what to do to recover from that veer.
- Some busy intersections in major cities now have audible traffic signals that make it a little easier for blind pedestrians to guide themselves in a straight line from one side of the street to the other, but they are not always kept in working order and they tend to be few and far between.
- Veering is something that happens even with the best travelers. The important issues are to be able to figure out how to recover, and also, not veering so much that you end up in parallel traffic. This may seem overly obvious, but if you have a tendency to veer, it is better to veer away from the parallel traffic instead of toward it. Some intersections do not give you anything to work with, but there are a couple of common trends that can be helpful. In the city I teach in the most, many intersections feature brick crosswalks and non-brick paved streets. In such instances, if you use constant contact, an especially with the tip you say you are using, you should be able to determine when you are veering out of the brick surface. If you need more reinforcement, you can shoreline between the brick crosswalk and the paved street. It is usually best to do this on the border of the crosswalk that is furthest away from the parallel traffic flow. Even if there is not an obvious surface change between sidewalk and street such as I have just described, sometimes there is an expansion crack that runs in the direction of the parallel traffic, but in the crosswalk area. If you find such an expansion crack, again constant contact is suggested; you can arc back and forth across the crack using constant contact.
- For reasons I trust many of you can easily infer, I suggest to most of our DeafBlind students that they find with their cane the curb at an intersection. By this I mean the part where there’s an actual curb and it is not the curb cut at the corner. Finding that curb assures us that we’re indeed at a street crossing point and not, for example, at driveway in the middle of a block.
- Touching that curb is a great way to get oriented. Then, stepping off the corner cut, we suggest veering on purpose slightly to the left or to the right. The goal here is not to go straight or “aim” for the opposite corner cut. Rather, the goal is to err somewhat to the side of that, away from traffic and in many cases hitting a part of the curb very near the cut rather than hitting the cut itself. Upon making contact with the curb or half of it, because it is dipping into the cut, it is easy to step aside and onto the cut and go on from there. Trying to walk straight or to aim precisely for a point in the distance risks veering into the path of oncoming traffic. We have found with experience that veering on purpose is much more robust, relaxing, and, ironically, if you fail to veer as intended, the result is that you’ve walked straight by accident. But this mistake rarely happens. I think we do a great job of veering.
- There was also some mention about using apps including visual assistance apps. This app discussion was met with mixed reviews about the safety of using an app and a cane while crossing a street.
If you have additional suggestions or tips on straight street crossings, please contact us at [email protected].
By Diane Brauner
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