Welcome back to the blog!
It’s time for celebration! What celebration, you ask? Well, I’ve been a white cane user for 5 years, and that my friend, is worth celebrating! Five years ago, and after needing nearly a month of Orientation and Mobility training with an orientation and mobility instructor- an O&M instructor is a specialist that is trained in helping children and adults who are blind or visually impaired know where they are or where they want to go (orientation) and how to get their safely and independently (mobility). So, after my month-long training, I was ready, not just physically, but also, emotionally as well.
Prior to me actually using a white cane, I was already visually impaired, and have been for a very long time. But I had a lack of understanding (mainly due to societal and media’s misrepresentation of blind people). For the longest time, I thought that only totally blind people, (and what I thought I meant by totally blind people, were people that cannot see absolutely ANYTHING at all), should or could use a white cane. What I didn’t know was, someone like me, with my degree of vision loss, could still use, and in fact, could be benefited from using a white cane. Anyways, there’s been a lot I’ve learned from being a white cane user for 5 years, and I’m here to share just that with you today:
It’s Just A Cane
Yes, you heard it right. A white cane is…just a cane. It‘s a mobility tool, that helps blind and visually impaired people navigate the world around them, more safely and independently, and that’s it. When I first started using a white cane, and was still in training, I had A LOT of thoughts in my head, such as: “How do I look walking with a white cane?” “What would others (my friends, family, or even strangers, etc) feel or think when I use a white cane?” “Would I be or look vulnerable because of the cane?” (Meaning, will others try to take advantage of me because of my cane?). “What would my professors and fellow classmates say to me when I walk into the classroom with my cane?” These questions, didn’t necessarily have or need any answers, because they were my excuses and thoughts trying to convince me that I don’t want or need to use a white cane. Whereas in fact, I so desperately needed it, in order to be more independent, and to travel safely from point A to point B. And besides, most people around me, whether I know them or they’re just strangers, didn’t mind or care too much whether I used a white cane or not. Here, I do still wanted to point out is that, I did tell those close to me or knew me at the time, like my family, my instructors at school , my co-workers and supervisors at work, and even my friends I see regularly, that I was going to be a white cane user from now on. I didn’t want to surprise anyone. None of these people questioned me, whether they approved of my decision or not (some thought I was a bit exaggerating to need a white cane, and they still do think that, but they respect my decision nonetheless).
White Cane Users Aren’t All Totally Blind!
As I said earlier in the blog, despite being visually impaired for a long time, but due to media’s misrepresentation and social misunderstandings of blind and visually impaired people, I always thought of myself as “not blind enough.” When I was younger, nobody in my family, or teachers and classmates at school have ever called me blind or visually impaired. Instead, I’ve just been called as “the girl or student who can’t see so well.” As if, the word ‘blind’ or ‘visually impaired’ are bad words (they’re not!).
I still remember the interesting and funny conversation I had with my low vision specialist. When she brought up about the white cane, I had this very confused and even a little terrified expressions on my face, and I said this to her, “Would I even be qualified to use a white cane??” I was terrified also because, for a split second, I thought I was going to be totally blind very soon. You see, even as someone like myself, a visually impaired person, needed to be educated on on the fact that, a white cane isn’t just for someone who’s totally blind. Don’t I wish I knew about earlier than just 5 years ago, totally! But, I guess it’s a good thing that I was educated, or else, I would’ve never known!
Most People Are Helpful, Some Just Aren’t!
I think I must’ve been very lucky. So far in my 5 years of being a white cane user, for the most part, I’ve found the kindness of others than otherwise. I think as a white cane (or any other mobility aid users, for that matter), when people see us, they automatically assume or feel the need to help us. But in fact, we may not always need help. Over the years, I’ve found that yes, people will ask “Do you need some help?” This happens quite often when I’m out and about on the street, especially when I’m alone. But, when I respond, “No, I’m fine, thank you.” For the most part, they understand, and they don’t insist any further.
However, there are a few odd times, when I clearly don’t need or want assistance, but people insisted to help (Oh so (un)helpful!). Like this one time, I was walking through an area with some construction work. At first, there was no one around, but I assessed the area and found a way I could navigate safely. Just as when I was getting ready to take my steps, two men, slightly older than me, didn’t even introduce themselves, grabbed my arm (from behind!) and said “Let us take you through this.” I was speechless. I didn’t want this help or need it. I just needed a bit more time. But, I didn’t resist their “help” either. And I didn’t say “Thank you.” Because I didn’t think they deserve it. Clearly, they didn’t offer to help in the most helpful way. They didn’t introduce themselves, they didn’t ask if I need help, and they just assumed I do. And what’s worse, they grabbed me, which to a degree, that startled me. But, I didn’t resist because I didn’t want to argue with them. In other instances, when people “try to help” or to force help onto me, and when I refuse, they always have this “why won’t you let me help you” expression on their faces, which often make me laugh a little, because, isn’t it common sense? If I need help, I’ll ask.
Sometimes Standing Out Isn’t Entirely a Bad Thing
A lot of times, when we see ourselves or others around us that stand out, we automatically think that that’s a bad thing. But in fact, sometimes, standing out has its benefits as well. For example, without my white cane, and just by looking at me, it’s likely that you won’t see me as some with a visual impairment. Because it’s true, I don’t look like a typical visually impaired person. I don’t have clouded or deformed eyes; and I don’t always wear sunglasses (like blind people being depicted on TV). My eyes, they look relatively normal (on the outside, that is). But, with my white cane, people will notice and know that I’m someone with a visual impairment, because the cane is a symbol of blindness and visual impairment. So yes, I may stand out because of my white cane, but it is an awareness to others to be more mindful around me and/or to be more patient with me.
Having It All The Time Is Better Than Having It Occasionally
Before I give my thoughts on this one, I think everyone should get educated on the fact that, temporary or occasional mobility users exist. You might be aware that some people in the disability/chronic illness community that are ambulatory wheelchair or mobility aid users, and they have a movement called #AmbulatoryWheelchairUsersExist. Disability and/or chronic illness can vary from day to day, and sometimes, even moment to moment, so it’s totally valid to be needing a mobility aid one day and not needing one the next day. I just want to put this out here first.
Now, what I mean when I say, having a white cane all the time is better than having it occasionally is that, I have my white cane in hand, even when I may not need to use it. The white cane for me, is not only a mobility tool, to help me safely navigate my surroundings, but it is also very much an awareness tool to let others know that I’m visually impaired (I know I’m kind of repeating myself here but this point is important!). I’m also aware that, the white cane just like any other mobility aid, some people might choose to use it on days (or nights) their eyes struggle more. Some people only use it outdoors for instance. All or any of these choices and decisions are valid, and are based on personal preference. For me personally, and from the moment I decided to use a white cane, I decided to use it full-time. And of course, there’re some exceptions to that, for example, with some indoor places (like my own home, and other indoor places I’m familiar, or feel I can navigate safely with some minor help from others), I don’t use my cane. And even for these decision, they could change down the road.
There you have it! These are the 5 things I’ve learned from using a white cane for 5 years. At the end, I should also add: in these past 5 years, I’ve taken my cane with me to two other countries and at least 5 different cities. I’m looking forward for the next five and many more years, and taking my cane with me on many more adventures!
By: The Invisible Vision Project