Getting about when you have Usher

As somebody with Usher, you will have your own preferences when it comes to mobility aids, choosing those which will suit you and your lifestyle. Here are some of the options, compiled by Sense's Usher's Team:

Mobility Canes

There are different types of canes comprised of different lengths, colours, shapes, weight, materials and can be foldable or straight. Each type of cane, and cane tip, has a different meaning and are beneficial to different people in different ways.

The colour codes of the cane:

White cane - this is a very well-known cane which identifies people as being blind or visually impaired.

Red and white striped cane – this is a less well known symbol and identifies people who are deafblind or who have a combined hearing loss and visual impairment (as mentioned in Section 207 of The Highway Code, UK). Thanks to better campaigning, the awareness of its usage and its meaning has improved.

Over the last few years, more people have opted for colourful mobility canes to reflect their personality and style. People with Usher use either or both of the canes described, depending on their personal preference.

The style of cane:

Symbol cane - this is a short cane which is held rather than used to identify obstacles. It tells people that the person is visually impaired, so that people are aware to be careful and not walk into you. They may approach you and ask if you need any support.

Guide cane – this is longer than the symbol cane and is used to identify obstacles in front of the person, such as kerbs, steps, posts and rubbish bins. It also shows people that the person is visually impaired.

Long cane - this is a much longer cane and is measured in length relative to the height of the person using it. It is swept from side to side, along the ground, giving feedback to the user when it touches cracks in the pavement, cobble stones, steps and kerbs. It is also used to identify obstacles in their path, such as posts. Mobility training should be received by the person before using a long cane.

RNIB sell a wide range of canes.

Vibrating cane - Ultracane is a long cane with ultrasonic obstacle detectors and vibrating buttons built into it. When a person with Usher walks toward an object, the faster the vibration, the closer they are to the object. The Ultracane can indicate whether an object is near to the ground or at chest/head height.  

Different cane tips:

Point tip - this is shaped a bit like a piece of chalk. The cane is moved from side to side, with the pointer tapping on the ground, sending the user environmental information. This is not as sensitive to pavement surface information as a ball tip.

Ball tip - this is shaped like a small orange. The cane is moved from side to side with the ball rolling over the ground. This is a very popular choice and provides good information about the condition of the pavement and other obstacles in the environment.

Rollerball tip – smaller than the ball tip but glides well over surfaces.

There are a number of other different tips available.

Please note: Every individual is different and a cane used by one person with Usher may not suit another person with Usher. It is important to receive advice from a rehabilitation officer to help identify the cane most suited to the individual. Mobility training will be required before using a long cane.


Guide dogs

A fully trained guide dog assists a person with Usher to navigate their environment by behaving in the following ways:

  • Responding to hand signals or voice commands 
  • Walking around any obstacles, rubbish bins, people etc.
  • Stopping at kerbs and steps to tell the owner of their presence 
  • Guide dogs use their memory map when in familiar surroundings 
  • Assisting with accessing buildings such as restaurants, shops or public offices 
  • Guiding the owner in the dark 
  • Working as a team with the owner

The owner has a responsibility for the wellbeing of the guide dog and must care for it by ensuring it is healthy, clean and happy.

Information about getting a guide dog.

Dual qualified guide dogs

A dual qualified dog is a guide dog for the blind and a hearing dog for Deaf people.  A dual guide dog will have been trained by Hearing Dogs for the Deaf to tell the owner when there are specific sounds around the home and, with the right training, in other environments.

The dog hears a sound – then walks towards the owner, sits down and puts its paw on the owner’s leg. The owner says ‘what is it?’ by sign. The owner then follows the dog to the area where the sound has come from. In cases where an emergency sound is occurring, for example when a smoke alarm sounds, the dog will lay flat on the floor near the owner’s feet. Dual qualified dogs will touch the person’s foot from this position to indicate danger.

They will draw your attention to the following kinds of situations:

  • A doorbell ringing
  • A telephone ringing
  • Smoke alarm
  • Someone calling out
  • An alarm clock
  • Cooker timer
  • Baby crying

Guide Dogs for the Blind will train the dog to guide the owner when out and about to make the owner aware of obstacles and hazards.  As for guide dogs, a dual qualified dog must be cared for and it is the owner's responsibility to ensure they are well looked after.

Information about getting a dual assistance dog.

Assistance Aids

Vibrating Mobility Aids

There are different vibrating mobility aids available which may be able to support people with Usher, whether or not they use mobility canes or a guide dog.

iGlasses ultrasonic mobility aid - a pair of glasses which vibrate to alert a person with Usher when there is an obstacle nearby, similarly to the Ultracane.  The closer they are to the object, the faster the vibrations.   

Miniguide – this is a small handheld device which detects obstacles. It vibrates when it detects an obstacle and there is an optional headset which provides auditory warnings.

Some people with Usher may use a combination of assistive aids.

Additional aids:

Long distance magnifying aid (known as hand-held telescopes or a hand monocular) – this is a small aid to help a person with Usher to see things from a distance, for example, bus numbers. This will help the person to identity the correct bus, and can also be used to see a train arrival/departure board, matches such as tennis, football and rugby, watching a show at a theatre or cinema, or seeing small animals such as birds.

Eye shields - sunglasses to protect your eyes from bright sunlight.

Torches – these come in a variety of shapes and sizes and can be attached to keys, hand held or worn around the neck or head. They help to identify footpaths and obstacles in the dark.

More Sense information about mobility aids

Communicator Guides / Guides

A Communicator Guide is a person who guides a person with Usher when they are out and about. They help them to navigate their environment by steering them around obstacles and other people. A Communicator Guide will also provide additional information about the environment that the person with Usher may not have heard or seen. This can be particularly useful in the workplace and Access to Work (ATW) funding can be applied for to cover the cost. Out of work you can apply for an assessment under the Deafblind Guidance from your local authority to identify the need for a communicator guide and for help in funding them. A Communicator Guide will have qualifications in BSL or will use clear speech patterns.

A guide carries out the same role as above, although they will not usually carry out the communication element, particularly where the Usher person has type 2 or 3 and relies more on speech and lip reading.

The environment around you

Good access, both inside and outside buildings, are important for a person with Usher. Look to ensure you have good, bright lighting inside and outside the house. Use coloured stripes on step edges to contrast one step with the next.

Colour contrasts between objects and walls are important, for example; a white light switch on a white/light-coloured wall may be difficult for a person to see - you could paint around the switch in a different colour to make it easier to identify.

Every person is different and they will require different levels and types of lighting depending on their vision. Colours are seen very differently by people and certain colour combinations may not work for everybody.


Created: February 2016

Review due: February 2018 



First published: Wednesday 2 December 2015
Updated: Monday 16 January 2017