Usher syndrome: walking safely when you have Usher

This page provides information and practical advice to help make getting around easier when you have Usher syndrome. 

It covers top tips for walking safely, during the daytime and after dark, canes and vibrating mobility aids, sighted guides, communicator guides and guide dogs. 

Get to know your Usher needs

Having Usher syndrome can lead to a loss of confidence and make getting around more difficult. 

Usher syndrome isn’t the same for everyone. Allow yourself to get to know your personal sight and hearing needs. 

Then, you can use the information on this page to figure out what works best for you to get around safely and more confidently. 

Local authority mobility support

Your local authority can provide you with orientation and mobility support through a rehabilitation officer for the visually impaired (ROVI). 

A ROVI will assess your mobility and access needs, including the lighting inside and outside your house.  

They will also help you to find one-to-one sessions and training for mobility aids, such as using a cane. 

If you have received an assessment under the deafblind guidance, the ROVI will follow this report. 

Your local authority may also operate dial-a-ride or taxi schemes, using vouchers or tokens. 

You may also be eligible for a bus pass, a Disabled Persons Railcard or both. 

Walking top tips 

There are a number of things you can do to make walking in everyday life easier and safer: 

  1. Get to know how long it takes for your eyes to adjust when walking from light to dark, e.g. when getting off a bus. Stand still for a little to let your eyes adapt. 
  2. Use sunglasses to help adjust to changing light conditions. 
  3. Because Usher syndrome makes it more difficult to see at night, or when it’s dark or dim, try to avoid areas with low light. 
  4. For the same reason, try to get to know routes really well in daylight, learning where obstacles are, e.g. bollards, the edge of pavements, steps, crossings, blind corners and busy areas. 
  5. Plan routes to avoid heavy traffic and busy pedestrian areas, particularly during the rush hour. 
  6. Use pedestrian crossings, even if it means taking a longer route. When the green light appears, look both ways before crossing, making sure there are no emergency vehicles coming at speed, e.g. police cars or ambulances. 
  7. Follow a well-lit road, even if it takes longer. 
  8. Try to walk at a steady, even pace. This can help other people to predict your movements and keep out of your way. 
  9. Walk along the middle of the pavement, as there aren’t usually any obstructions. 
  10. Follow the yellow lines that indicate where the kerbs are. 
  11. Look from side to side and straight ahead for obstacles. Keep in mind, though, that this calls for a lot of concentration and can be tiring. 
  12. Take time to check for the following: 
    • One-way streets: these can be easier to cross, as the traffic moves in only one direction. 
    • Filter streams: because the traffic divides and goes in different directions, it can be difficult to see which direction the traffic is coming from. 
    • Bicycle lanes: it is more difficult to see or hear approaching cyclists. 
    • Bumps on the pavement: these show where crossings are located. 
    • Traffic islands: these are a safe place to stop and check for traffic. 
  13. In shops and shopping centres, watch out for staff kneeling down, signs showing that cleaning is taking place, pushchairs and small children running around. 

After dark 

It is harder to judge distances at night, so it’s important to take more time when crossing roads. 

You should also make sure that you can be seen in the dark, so that people can keep out of your way. You can: 

  • Use torches to identify footpaths and obstacles. 
  • Wear something white. 
  • Wear fluorescent trainers or shoelaces. 
  • Wear a jacket with reflective flashes, e.g. a ski jacket. 
  • Carry something that reflects light, e.g. a brightly coloured rucksack or plastic bag. 

Canes 

There are canes of different lengths, colours, shapes, weights and materials, which can be foldable or straight.  

Each type of cane and cane tip has a different purpose and meaning. 

  • White cane: This identifies you as being blind or having sight loss. 
  • Red and white striped cane: This identifies you as having a combined sight and hearing loss. 
  • Symbol cane: This is a short cane that’s held rather than used to detect obstacles. It tells people that you have sight loss. 
  • Guide cane: This is longer than the symbol cane and is used to find obstacles, such as kerbs, steps, posts and rubbish bins. It also tells people that you have sight loss. 
  • Long cane: This much longer cane is designed for you, based on your height. You sweep it from side to side, along the ground, to detect cracks in the pavement, cobble stones, steps, kerbs and obstacles. It’s important that you get mobility training before using this cane.
  • Ultracane: This long cane, with ultrasonic obstacle detectors and vibrating buttons, vibrates faster the closer you get to an object. It also indicates whether an object is on the ground or at chest or head height.   

Different cane tips: 

  • Point tip: This is shaped like a piece of chalk. You move the cane from side to side, with the pointer tapping on the ground, letting you know what is around you. This is not as sensitive as a ball tip. 
  • Ball tip: This tip is shaped like a small orange. You move the cane from side to side with the ball rolling over the ground. The ball tip is a popular choice and is sensitive to the condition of the pavement and other obstacles. 
  • Rollerball tip: This is smaller than the ball tip, but glides well over surfaces. 

Vibrating mobility aids 

  • iGlasses™ Ultrasonic Mobility Aid: These glasses vibrate to alert you when an obstacle is nearby. The closer you are to the object, the faster the vibrations.    
  • Miniguide: This small, handheld device vibrates when it detects obstacles. There is also an optional headset that gives you an audio warning. 

Guides

It’s important that any guide has an understanding of Usher syndrome and your particular needs, and you should agree on how to communicate while moving about. 

Sighted guides 

If you would like someone to guide you regularly, it’s a good idea for them to attend a course on guiding or visual awareness, as these usually involve some guiding. 

A number of local and national organisations provide formal sighted guide training.  

Contact the Sense Usher Service on [email protected] for advice on where to find this training.  

Here are some suggestions for using a guide person: 

  • If possible, choose someone of similar height to yourself. 
  • Make sure the person fully understands your sight and hearing needs. 
  • You should take your guide’s arm gently at the elbow or put your hand on your guide’s shoulder or back, whichever you prefer, and walk one step back from them. 
  • Work out between you a signal system that you will always use, for example: 
  • When your guide raises their arm, it means you’re going upstairs. 
  • When your guide places their arm in the middle of your back, it means you’re moving into a narrow space and will need to walk behind your guide. 
  • Discuss with your guide what does and doesn’t work so you can figure out the best system for you.  

Communicator guides 

A communicator guide can help you get out and about and give you practical support with day-to-day tasks. 

This can be particularly useful at work, and you can apply for Access to Work funding to cover the cost.

You can also apply for an assessment under the deafblind guidance to find out whether you would benefit from a communicator guide. 

Read more here about support in the workplace.

Guide dogs 

A fully trained guide dog can help you to get around, navigate obstacles and help you go about your day-to-day life. 

Dual-purpose guide dogs 

A dual purpose dog is trained to perform more than one role, e.g. seeing and hearing. 

Find out about the benefits and responsibilities of a guide dog from the charity Guide Dogs.

Hearing, sight and assistive technologies 

You’ll also find much more information, covering a wide array of hearing, sight and assistive technologies that allow you to get on and live life more fully, on the following pages: 

Get support from Sense

The Sense Usher Service can support you, your family and healthcare professionals. 

This content was last reviewed in April 2022. We’ll review it again next year.