Alex Man is a blind blogger, specialising in technology and accessibility. Here he shares his story of how he started learning to use the cane and how he eventually came to accepting it as a vital tool for his independence. #LoveMyCane
For a lot of visually impaired people, using a cane isn’t as easy as grabbing it one day and simply sweeping as you walk from the get-go. Apart from the training itself, there is a deeper psychological aspect to this process. Here is my story of my relationship with the White Cane.
‘My first mobility lesson’
It was at the age of 6 when I remember having my very first mobility lesson; specialist orientation training for those who are visually impaired.
I was really excited to try out the cane, a new tool, that came with the promise that I would be able to travel around on my own!!
Several sessions later, I had matured slightly; I’d moved-on from simply gleefully regarding it as a sword that I was told that I was able to take home!
‘My first trip with the cane’
Excited to try it out for the first time in public, I got out of the car with my family, on a busy Sunday afternoon in a shopping centre.
“No, I don’t need to hold onto anyone”, “I will be able to walk independently”, “I’ve done this hundreds of times already”; is what my optimistic 8-year-old self-told my parents repeatedly.
Grabbing the handle, I unsheathed my cane and started walking alongside my folks, sweep left, sweep right; left, right, left, right. “This is going quite well” I’d thought to myself. This apparent confidence put my parents at ease.
Sadly, this all changed as soon as we came in to contact with people.
As I reached a crowd of shoppers, the effect was quite instantaneous. You could say, I did the idiom ‘Set the cat among the pigeons’ proud.
People jumped out of my way, mothers dragged their children out of the lethal sweep of my cane, and of course there were the comments…
“Watch out for that blind boy”, “He’s blind”, “What a shame he can’t see”, “his parents should hold on to him”,
‘I was not prepared for a reaction like that’
Just as fast as the crowd’s reaction, I stopped, folded up my cane and handed it to my mother, and grabbed her arm.
With what felt like all eyes on us, we left.
Being from a VI school, it was the norm to use a cane. I was not prepared for a reaction like that.
After that memorable episode, I didn’t dare to use my cane out in public for many years. Not even when I started traveling on public transport at the age of 10. I relied on my remaining vision, surprisingly managing to get by with only a few bumps or scrapes. I am very careful when I move and am hyper conscious to the things and people around me, even more than some sighted people, which brings to mind one of my favourite quotes…
“When we started Apple, Steve Jobs and I talked about how we wanted to make blind people as equal and capable as sighted people, and you’d have to say we succeeded when you look at all the people walking down the sidewalk looking down at something in their hands and totally oblivious to everything around them!” – Steve Wozniak
It was very slow progress however, and I soon realised that if I wanted to move with confidence, I would actually have to pick up the cane once more.
‘I found myself starting to use my cane’
Overtime, perhaps down to maturity, or maybe because my vision was slowly deteriorating, I found myself starting to use my cane more and more.
The more I used it, the more confident I became, and as such, the less I noticed other people’s reaction to the cane.
Once the biggest barrier to my confidence, people, are now extremely useful, whether it be following crowds if I’m not sure about which way to take, or asking the general public for directions, people are most of the time, good to have around.
And my cane?
Well, I can still travel without it but without it I feel even more self-conscious, it is just a part of me now.
Many years have passed since that fateful day in the shopping centre, I now travel independently every day to and from work and have even travelled as far as Asia on my own.
Alex Man is a blind blogger, specialising in technology and accessibility.
Find out more by visiting the Love My Cane Page