The Client was a lady, registered blind, whose Guide Dog had retired. His successor lasted about six weeks before deciding that the life of a Guide Dog was not for him and the lady is now reliant on a long white stick until a replacement dog can be trained.
She lives on a narrow boat with her partner and often has to navigate along tow paths, not the most level of surfaces, and was finding that the shocks that occurred when she hit an obstacle were hurting her wrists. The request was for some form of cushioning feature.
The life style of the Client often required her to navigate her way along canal tow paths, whilst her partner steered the boat between locks.
The challenge was to replicate the features of a standard long stick used for guidance and as supplied through the RNIB. This included the ability to fold it for convenience and to build in a cushioning feature which would come into use when the stick came into end contact with an obstacle on the ground.
The standard sticks supplied through the RNIB do not have such a feature and are perfectly rigid.
The stick thus has to retain the “feel” of a standard stick, be light in weight, and be sufficently robust enough to with stand the use and abuse that it might suffer in use.
The first attempt used the latest stick available from the RNIB. The springs used for the energy absorption feature were to be housed in the upper portion of the stick. The thinking behind this was that the weight of the stick would be close to the Client’s hand and, therefore, less in weight. This proved difficult because the design of the later sticks use a plastic moulding at the joints of the collapsible stick which is difficult to replicate and requires the tension of the shock cord threaded through the stick to maintain the rigidity of the stick when in the open condition. This meant that a significant portion of the spring’s capability to absorb energy was effectively short-circuited by the compression from the shock cord.
To overcome this, an older design of stick was obtained from the Client. This older design features swaged parallel joints akin to an old-fashioned tent pole. The lower end of the stick was replaced by short length of plastic pipe which housed two springs in series. The end features of the pipe were turned from a black acetal plastic. The ball end which is a feature of the long stick was a standard one obtained from the RNIB and one that uses an M8 threaded connection to the stick, rather than a hook connection to the shock cord.
Update: The first longstick was posted by Royal Mail to the Client and never arrived! Lockdown then commenced and it was only recently that construction of a new one started. This is an improved version. Strangely the orientation of the taper joints on a new stick purchased from the RNIB was the reverse of that described above. This made things easier because a male taper joint is infinitely easier to turn.
The design was also strengthened by using aluminium for the end joints, plastic being confined to the central tubular section.
It is now intended to hand deliver the item to the client to the canal location where they have been in lockdown ready for the date when they will be able to restart cruising.
The Client anticipated that the cushioning feature would reduce the wear and tear on her wrist when using the long stick.