There is a common theme I have heard among the low vision community. It’s not just an RP dilemma, but affects everyone with low vision, although I have heard that Rp’ers are particularly stubborn. It’s the dreaded white-cane reluctance. I thought a couple of jokes might lighten the mood before we delve into this uncomfortable subject matter.
What did the blind man say when he was handed a cheese grater?
That was the most violent book I’ve ever read.
I let some blind guy borrow some money the other day. He said he would pay me back the next time he sees me.
A blind guy walks into a bar.
And a table and a chair….
Wanna know how to surprise a blind guy?
Leave the plunger in the toilet!
Why don’t blind people go skydiving?
It scares the dog!
OK, they were all awful but now that we’ve lightened the mood let’s talk about the dreaded white cane. Many people with RP avoid using the cane until they absolutely must. I certainly can be counted among the denier’s out there. I’ll start by telling you my story.
At first, I was happy enough to take mobility training and use the cane. I saw it as a tool I would inevitably need and practice now would prepare me for the time when I couldn’t see anything. I was told at the time that I should be using it always as I was already “blind enough” but I could still see quite a bit so….
Unfortunately, one day as I was pulling out my cane to go somewhere, my Mother told me that I was only calling attention to myself, implying that I was seeking attention and pity, which I was not. Her idle comment sent me into a tailspin and for years I refused to use the cane at all. I felt like a fake, a fraud, and so embarrassed about how I would be perceived, after all, if that was how my mother saw it, how would other people. I finally dusted the cane off when I went back to college and knew that I wouldn’t be able to avoid the crowds. I went to the school a few weeks early to make sure that I knew where everything was. I figured if I had to press my nose against the room sign to find my classes, better to do it before anybody was there to notice. I still didn’t use my cane around my neighborhood and had many bumps and bruises for my trouble.
Now I use the cane all the time. I need it. I may see clearly when something is right in front of me, but I’ve had enough accidents and near misses to make me feel unsafe without it. I used to call my cane my ugly stick, now it’s just my white cane, maybe someday it will be given a new name, like the lady who calls hers Sir Michael and loves it because she has rediscovered window shopping. Confession: I live near West Edmonton Mall and love to take my cane so that I can check out the stores instead of the ground. (2017 update, Cheeky Charlie, my cane’s new name! I named it after the family cat we had when I was a child.)
One poster in an RP support group admitted that when he was first handed a cane he dropped it like a hot pan. There are several places this reluctance comes from and none of them are logical.
Not Really Blind:
There is the perspective that you can still see therefore you don’t really need the cane. Like me you feel as if you are a fake because you aren’t totally blind; this, even though you could draw a map of the bruises and scrapes across your legs. I read that one woman started using her cane only after falling down the same flight of stairs four times in a two-week period. Does it really have to get this bad before you pick up that stick?
The Inferior Burden:
Another source of reluctance is the thought that you will be perceived as a burden to other people, as weak or inferior. It may be the misunderstandings of others that cause this fear in us or our own biases from our past. We are perpetually in a state of adjusting how we do things and people don’t always understand that adjustments are possible. They can’t understand how we can do as much as we do. They don’t know what technology is available to us. And quite frankly we don’t always know just how much we can do. We first must believe in ourselves and then we can prove through our actions that we are just as capable as anyone else and not a burden to anyone.
There are approximately 17 million people worldwide who have RP. That is a conservative estimate since one in every 4000 Americans have RP and there are over 7 billion people in the world today. There are even more people with low vision from other eye diseases. The point is, there are a lot of us and we have a lot to offer the world. Don’t sell yourself short.
People will stare and make fun of us:
Will they? I haven’t had the problem of people making fun of me, except maybe my son who likes to make light of every situation. There is one benefit to being blind, I can’t see if people are staring at me. The fun part for me is watching people leap like gazelles out of my way when I’m walking in crowded areas. I have been told that people do stare but I have also been assured that it comes more from curiosity than contempt. There is an old saying that goes something like this: if you knew how seldom people thought of you, you wouldn’t worry so much. It’s true. People are caught up in their own lives most of the time. They see the person with the white cane and a fleeting thought may cross their mind, but it is only fleeting and they carry on about their business. Don’t worry about the other guy, just worry about yourself and you’ll do just fine.
First, let me introduce you to a couple of cool links. Who says a cane can’t be fashionable, take a look at these links that show the evolution of white cane fashion!
http://blog.cnib.ca/Lists/Posts/Post.aspx?ID=603a Purple white cane
http://www.fashionablecanes.com Fashionable canes
Ok, all silliness aside, although I like the idea of a cane for every outfit, a cane is a tool first and foremost. If you must dress it up, go for it, but the fact is a cane can save you serious harm and even your life. I have been knocked down by cars, luckily not hard, fallen off curbs, and bashed my legs on more obstacles than I can count. I should have used the cane much sooner than I did, my legs wouldn’t have the same dents as they do if I had have gotten over my pride and prejudice sooner. I still struggle every day with admitting that I am blind. I try to do things I know I shouldn’t and feel embarrassed when I must pull out a magnifier. “I am too young to look so old,” I tell myself “Only Grannies use magnifiers”. The truth of the matter is that I do need help from the technology of various types and sometimes from people. We all do, whether we are able-bodied or not.
Admitting it to ourselves is always the hardest part. Like an addict, we must get to the point where we can say “Hi, my name is (fill in your name here), and I am blind.” It will take different triggers for different people, but eventually, we all have to get to the place where we realize “I need this”.
One of the best books I have ever read about mobility and white cane use is called Mobility Matters: Stepping out in Faith by Amy Bovard. It is funny, poignant and packs a lot of tips and useful information. You can find it by following the link below to Amy’s web page and listen to a chapter before you buy, it is wonderful.
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