Friday, August 30, 2019

White Cane Evolution by Carol Farnsworth

We have a love\hate relationship with our white canes.  When first given a cane to use, we reject it.  Usually, we get into a situation where we find that is better to use the cane.

My incident came at a fast food restaurant.  I was eating lunch with my family.  During the meal, I got up to use the restroom.  I bumped into several tables on the way to the wall where I felt my way to the restroom.  I repeated the feeling and table-bumping until I was back at my own table.  When we were ready to leave, I unfurled my folding cane with several loud clicks.  As we were exiting the restaurant, I heard one of the employees remark,"I thought she was drunk!"  To be seen as drunk or blind, I would rather be blind.

Eventually, my orientation and mobility instructor convinced me that I would be safer with the white cane.  I was a novice working the cane.  When with my sighted guide, I would hold the cane in a defensive position.  If I became nervous, I would swing the cane wildly in front of us, people would part like the Red Sea in front of Moses.  I believe that they were worried about being struck by my wild antics with the cane.

With time, I learned the two techniques of bouncing the end from side-to-side or dragging the end of the cane from right to left.  Both cane movements were coordinated with walking.

When we traveled to Scotland, I had good cane use but the novelty of a white cane user convinced the pedestrians to give us a wide berth, some people were so intent to get out of our way they jumped into doorways or off the curb.

As I gained confidence and training in cane use I never left home without it.  Even with a sighted guide, I still hold my white cane at the ready.

When walking with my daughter, I was using my cane and talking to her. Unknown to me, she veered us directly towards four young men walking in a line. She stopped the end man and asked,”Don’t you see this lady is blind? She will not get out of your way!”. He mumbled a “Sorry?”. I quizzed her about the incident and she replied that they needed a lesson about others in their environment.

I have made peace with using my white cane and never leave home without one. People still want to help me cross streets or grab my elbow to propel me forward because they see the white cane, not me. With patience, I explain what I can and can not do. By interacting, I help people see the person behind the cane.
Biography (in first person):  I was born with glaucoma but have become totally blind in the last four years. I have a teaching degree in regular and special education and a Master’s degree in Speech Pathology. I worked with mentally disabled adults (many were nonverbal). I learned to use many techniques to elicit communication.

Similarly, I will use many tools to deal with blindness. I will use braille, voice over, and Seri to assist me with writing.

Other interests include gardening, listening to audio books, and riding a tandem bike, which my husband John and I have been doing for 22 years.

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