#WhiteCaneDay : A Big Piece of Freedom

Four cylindrical segments of aluminum, fitted together around a double elastic string. She, (because I want her to be a she), stands approximately 54 inches tall and comes to just below the second button on my comfortable sweater. She is the friend who is all good with me, as long as she doesn’t SNAP!

My beautiful, foldable, white cane. I often enjoy the stunned reaction I get when on public transit and I slide the holding string away and pop it open with a flourish.

“Wow, that stick is cool!

As an aside, I don’t have a great understanding of color, not surprisingly, so maybe you can explain why white is better than, say, red? Does red look too much like an emergency, and thus perhaps serve as a grater distraction rather than a signpost to just be aware? I’m curious.

In any event, today marks the 50th anniversary of National White Cane Safety Day, hashtagged on social media as #WhiteCaneDay. The National Federation of the Blind has published this article detailing the history and significance of this particular day. I immediately notice that it was born at the same time that equal civil rights for people of different racial/ethnic backgrounds were also being established. I doubt that this is entirely coincidental.

RELATED: Another great #WhiteCaneDay post: Don’t Fear The Cane

While I now consider her my friend, this “stick” and I were not always on such chummy terms. There are a few reasons for this, not the least of them being that my first metallic staff was a straight thing with curved top, like a candy cane. As a kid, I hated being further ostracized by this thing that I would have to slide under three chairs so as not to trip other children and teachers as they made their way around the class.

I knew the older blind kids had a folding cane, and that it would be a privilege afforded me if I got to a high enough level of Orientation and Mobility (O&M) to move around well and demonstrated a willingness to take care of the thing. Unfortunately, I did not always exercise sound judgement once I acquired that jointed object. For it also made a concealable weapon, ready to be whipped out as soon as I felt I was being insulted. Funny how quickly those halls cleared when it made that fantastic sound, like someone engaging in a sword fight. Get out of my way!

Into my high school and eventually college years, where I finally learned that she needed to stay on the ground, rising only high enough to make the taps that give me critical feedback about my environment. Are we nearing a curb? How far has the bus stopped from the sidewalk onto which I must step. And if I and my companion(s) in my blindness-oriented place of employment use proper skills, our extendable foldable friends will meet in the middle, instead of our heads! This is clearly a more desirable outcome.

As I practice these skills while out and about, I often wonder what some thoughts are that go through sighted people’s heads.

“No, ding dong, it’s not time to cross yet. You’re lucky I see you!”

RELATED: Travel By Leg: on my mobility abilities

“Aww, look at that amazing blind person who has dared to venture beyond his apartment and into the mean streets of town. I wonder where his attendant is?”

“Wait, is she really blind? She’s wearing glasses! Why the cane.

On this last point I’ll let a person with low vision explain more, but basically those who can see to some degree sometimes opt to carry canes in order to inform Joe or Jane Public that they might act in ways more consistent with individuals who are blind, due to an inability to take in a fuller picture of the environment. This can even include challenges in facial recognition, difficulties noticing where sidewalk turns to street, etc.

So if you see this person or any other using a cane, don’t make snap judgements regarding their visual acuity. Probably the best thing to do is clarity is really needed is to just ask, again as is always the case. And for my sake and all of those like me who wish to traverse our nation and world’s streets safely and in one piece, please use caution when operating a vehicle. Eyes on the road and your surroundings! Thank you.

I am grateful for those who have come before and worked hard and tirelessly to clear te way ahead for me. As the above-linked NFB article points out, as recently as 1930 most blind individuals didn’t dare venture beyond their home bounds alone. Now with a combination of fancy-shmancy technology and that good ol’ white cane, we range about as far and wide as we can dream. Here’s to 50 more years of safe, fun, informative, and ultimately life-affirming travel.

6 Responses to #WhiteCaneDay : A Big Piece of Freedom

  1. This “Aww, look at that amazing blind person who has dared to venture beyond his apartment and into the mean streets of town. I wonder where his attendant is?” stuck out to me. I feel like people applaud me when I am out with Max and he is using his cane. We can just be walking and everything is fine and we hear “bless his heart!”, “good job!”, etc. Good job for what? Bless his heart, why? We are doing things that are typical of people…because he has a cane we deserve accolades? I really see why the “Keep calm, it’s just a cane shirt” became a popular design.

    • Oh yeah, it’s sad that sort of thing still happens. I hope we’re getting people to understand that there isn’t any particular reason why a blind person shouldn’t be able to move around by him or herself. We might just have to learn a few things, but really it’s fine. Certainly not inspiring.

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  3. Great article. I very much enjoyed reading. I also went over and read the article by Hannah about low sight – only about 5% of blind people are completely 100% blind (paraphrasing)…. Very similar with deaf people. Only a small number are actually 100% deaf. Most are actually hard of hearing. And, incidentally, screaming at the top of your lungs doesnt help in hearing better, it just distorts things even more.

    • On the shouting in people’s ear thing, I agree! Have hearing problems myself, and if people talk too loudly I won’t understand that either. You should talk at a good volume, but also slowly and try to articulate. Hard to really get people to understand that who aren’t dealing with it themselves, I get that.

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