Bend But Don’t Break: On the Joys of Navigation

You’re at work. The place is teeming with people, like yourself, who are totally or partially blind. Lunchtime arrives, and the mad dash for the break room begins, so that you and everyone else might take advantage of the narrow 30-minute window for eating that really ends up being like 15 if you do any kine of preparation (hand-washing, bladder relief, a snack machine visit).

As you round the most congested corner, with visions of peanut butter crackers dancing in your head, you hear a frightening sound. The person bounces off and keeps going, with a perfunctory apology, but the more worrying thing is the alarming noise your cane, which admittedly is already over two years of age, makes. *wobble, wobble* it goes as you tentatively step forward and try to continue. “Oh, great” you think.

This was the scenario that confronted me this past fine Friday. Similar have happened in much more challenging places, like at street crossings where motorists moved so slowly that I was unable to pick up the automobile until its tires rolled over the cane (and thankfully not my toe!). But still, I was annoyed.

The first thing that occurred to me is that if someone managed to bend it so easily with only their leg/shoe/whichever met the cane, I could probably at least make it serviceable but levering it against a chair in front of me with it stuck under the caster and pulling as hard as possible. This did work, reducing the bend such that I could safely navigate outside at the end of the day. But it still feels very tenuous, at best.

So my second idea was to bring up the trusty Amazon app and type “Folding Cane” into the search. After sifting through all of the walking sticks, I located one made specifically for blind people. Distributed, I think, by a seller called Visionu, it only cost me $22. And because my wife is a Prime member and I’ve been included in the household, I could get it delivered to me by today, Sunday.

“Great,” I thought. “I could have my new cane before I even need to go back to work.” This all worked as advertised.

And what you might ask, do I make of the new cane? Well, it’s pretty much the right length, if a little long. But where canes are concerned it’s generally better to have longer than shorter anyway. The other small issue with it is that the pieces don’t fit as snuggly as I might like. This means that, especially if I’m tapping it as they want me to do in the workshop, the cane will slide a little apart at each joint. Not a huge deal, but it could be annoying when walking over bumpy areas, though I suppose its rolling tip should mitigate some of this.

While my little experiment maybe didn’t go as well as I would have liked it is still cool to have such technology available that makes it possible to, in a pinch, quickly replace very important hardware. This stuff has of course been great for us blind folk, from easy ride-hailing services to much-expanded grocery delivery, the latter of which I especially wish had existed to a greater extent when I lived alone. They had a local delivery company called Raleigh-Durham Deliveries, but they charged a $15 fee, and the prices for products were significantly higher as well. They were unfortunately not able to scale as well as they might have liked, and so went out of business. This was in 2010, before the smartphone revolution that has really brought everyone onboard with a more delivery-based shopping system really took off.

Ultimately I am still glad I got this cane in that manner, and will make use of it if I find it possible to do so.

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