Gallan's cane: his touchstone to the world

GALLAN Reilly-Martin does not care about the colour of the knobbed white cane he is using to explore his world. But International White Cane Day today is an important date for Gallan, because the seven-year-old Coffs Harbour boy has been blind since birth. White Cane Day is held to raise awareness of the significance of the white cane, which helps blind people find their way around, and to highlight the needs of people in the community who are vision-impaired. Gallan may not appreciate its colour, but he knows his cane is helping him to become more independent and he enjoys his 'exploration' sessions around Coffs Harbour with Jeremy Hill, his mobility instructor and the regional manager of Guide Dogs for Northern NSW. And for the last few weeks, Gallan has had another fascinating device to work with, an aid for the blind that is the first of its kind in Coffs Harbour. Gallan is test-driving the new K-Sonar ultrasonic mobility aid. This uses sonar, which radiates ultra sound and picks up the echoes from objects, to give Gallan information about objects he is approaching, a method also used by bats and naval vessels. With the K-Sonar clipped to his cane and his earphones in place, the device relays sounds to Gallan that change in frequency, volume and pitch according to the materials they encounter as well as their distance away. Eventually he will be able to judge not just the distance and location of objects but their texture and will know whether he is approaching a window or a tree, a person or a car. While most people with a vision impairment still find the long cane the safest and most reliable method of finding obstacles in their path, new technology is becoming available to make travel easier - and these days, Mr Hill says, the white cane is not always white ? it is available in a range of colours. Mr Hill believes the K-Sonar device, developed after 40 years of research by Dr Leslie Kaye, could benefit many local vision-impaired clients. He can be contacted on 66527424. Guide Dogs also has a website

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