Today’s blog post takes a look at the question, white cane or no cane?
If you read my introduction post then you know I am a longtime follower of the blog, Life of a Blind girl. In the post Embracing the cane, Holly shares her story about her relationship with her cane. Blind since birth, I too, have my own cane story. I have been a white cane user since I was a little girl. When I was a child, pre-canes did not exist. To learn about pre-canes, check out this link from Wonder Baby. I was the first child in Rhode Island to receive mobility services because back then mobility typically began when you were a teenager. My mom did not settle for this and pushed the fact that I was going to grow up learning moving around in environments. Since canes for young children were not a thing, mine was an adult cane cut down to a small size for my little hands to grip. And so my cane relationship began.
Like many other people, I have always had a love/hate relationship with my cane. As typically done with young children, my mobility instructor tried suggesting I name my cane for fun. I am grateful for my cane and if I had not used it in school I could have gotten physically injured. Even when I am not using it, I almost always make sure I have it with me.
The biggest reason I believe the cane is hard to have is because it is the very thing that keeps people away from us. Many times in school it was my cane or “stick” as people like to call it, that they saw first. Because looking past my cane was so difficult, it was hard for them to connect with me. The cane is the one thing that screams, “Oh hey! Look how different I am”.
While being different is a good thing, people often view the cane as a negative barrier. In fact, some visually impaired people I know never used it in school or out in public. I recently had a conversation with someone who told me they do not use a cane because they think it makes them appear weak and vulnerable which makes them an easy target for being taken advantage of. I have heard of visually impaired people not using their canes and getting injured as a result.
I always used mine in school and in the few years I lived at the University of Rhode Island, there was very little I could do without it. When I was first learning my dorm, someone working there put some felt on the wall so I could use it as a trailing point. I knew my way to the RA office and back to my room. My friend who was an RA would ask students not to, but they would always peel the felt off of the wall. Needless to say, my cane saved me again. I hope that one day more people will see the person and not their cane. For me, that’s the part about the cane I am not a fan of. I am thankful that I had it to get to classes though with such crowded hallways. Having my cane allowed me to move quicker and dodge students who were often not paying attention.
One time I wish that I had had my cane was during my fall semester of 2015 when I was making a recording with my reader Giana. She and I were always laughing and she learned to get to know me rather than simply my routine. I was working on a project for my first audio course and she brought me to URI’s gym. I had never been there before and Giana was very new. Our adventure that day took us across a street, all without my cane, which I had left in the office where I typically worked with students. When I am walking with someone new to being a sighted guide, I typically keep my cane out for caution. Since I was recording the sounds of the treadmill and weights, I left my cane behind to eliminate background noise.
Recording these sounds also meant we could not speak while I was capturing footage. Giana had told me what the gym looked like and I told her what I wanted to record and for how long. There was music playing and I was focused only on the sound of the treadmill. I needed to pay close attention to the noise of treadmill and wonder how well it would reflect what I was going for with my soundscape project. Since we were not talking and my mind was focused on the noises around me, I was caught off guard by the stairs that were quickly beneath my feet. Needless to say, I was very startled and came very close to falling down a flight of steps.
Once the recorder was off, Giana and I spent the afternoon laughing. The first thing she did was comment on the funny face I made. I remember thinking about how, if I had fallen, I could start a payment plan to replace any broken audio equipment. Thankfully, no one was hurt and nothing broke. =) If I had my cane, I know now I would have found the stairs much faster.
These are just a few examples of the pros and cons of being a white cane user. If you have any thoughts about using a cane, please share. Thanks for reading today’s post.