Can Your White Cane Come Out of the Closet?

Rescuing my cane from under the board walk.
Rescuing my cane from under the board walk.

Pop Quiz: 

Where your white cane now?    

  1. in a closet, or somewhere
  2. in your bag
  3. by the front door
  4. in your hand or at your feet
  5. I have a guide dog (Skip this entry and pat yourself on the back.)

It’s more likely that you checked number 1 than any of the other choices. Your white cane is in the closet, still unbattered and unscratched.When your mobility instructor first takes you out on the street it seems as if she’s teaching you a new sport or game. A white cane doesn’t fit with the image you have of yourself, to the narrative of your life. It has no place in the way you want to present yourself. You may hardly think about your cane, hiding there in the closet.

Hanging onto the arm of your friend, or doing the soft-shoe-shuffle at every curb seems easier than accepting a cane. Already you have a disability that people often fear or pity. Why walk around advertising the fact? Most people with even a little vision spend years either never using their cane or only showing it to prevent drivers from running them down. Actually swishing it around your home town, in and out of the houses of friends and the local stores, seems like a shortcut to rejection.

Of course, if you have no usable vision, you absolutely have to use the cane to get around. The shock and trauma are worse, but the advantage of this seeming disadvantage is that you don’t see the reaction of the people you meet. So you may get your cane out of the closet much sooner than we who can still see a little.

Coming out of the closet with your white cane is a hard thing. You expose your untried and untoughened personality to the thoughtless remarks of the public at large. You get battered while you learn to assert yourself and get comfortable inside your new skin, which now includes your cane. And as with any skill, using a cane takes lots of practice and plenty of proper training from a specialist in Orientation and Mobility.

The sooner you get your cane out of the closet and sweeping the sidewalk ahead for steps and posts, the safer and more independent you will be. Your cane take all the bashes and knocks and falls instead of you. It will be battered and scratched up. You, on the other hand, will be on your way.

Is your white cane a power tool returning you to independent action, or a stigmatizing symbol of dependence and disability?

Let the rest of us know how you deal with this.

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