THOUGHT PROVOKER 7
TO BE OR NOT TO Be
Last Updated April 21, 2004
To Provoke Thought Is The First Step To Beyond
My job is teaching travel skills to the blind, I'm blind too. Today I will begin working with a new student. I know this guy is legally blind. What I am not sure of is his present attitude toward the cane. Thinking about what tack my counseling will need to take, my thoughts are a jumble of remembrances of past students.
The marathon runners near the finish line, tired muscles straining, sweat flying from joyous faces, the sound of a long white cane tapping as they pass.
An eighty-one year old woman lay in the gutter with broken wrist and shattered hip. She had refused to use a long white cane, said, "My pride won't allow it." The doctors told her she'd never walk again.
The toddler moved ahead with kid size cane in hand. The proud parents watched, encouraging.
"I do okay, I'm not totally blind. I don't go anywhere at night, but during the day I go places I know."
"Since we added the cane, she walks to school by herself."
The mocking voice shouted from the passing car, "Watch out!"
"The cane freed me from having to look down at my feet."
**1. "I am totally blind and have worked with some sighted people who have depth
perception problems. I recall one specific case where I gave the person a chemice. I indicated she could find me reading about her in the obituary column of
the local newspaper or she could get a cane and stop falling down her
church steps. She got a cane which she calls independence and I taught
her how to use it successfully. I am not a mobility instructor, but have
been blind for many years."/
David Stayer (Merrick, New York, USA)
FROM ME: "David as a peer, as a competent cane user did what I have seen many, many blind people do. Can any blind person teach travel skills, good cane technique? No, nor can just any sighted person either. But tell me, who generally makes the bigger impression?"
**2. " The white Cane.
Having only recently lost my sight, I still remember the "outside view." Until I lost my sight, I only had casual contact with three blind
individuals in my life. One was a great-grand aunt who lost her sight in
old age. She didn't use a white cane. she just set in her arm chair the
whole day and vegetated, being let too feel by her family that they
considered her useless. Eventually, she committed suicide.
The other two bllind people I casually knew was a couple living in the
neighborhood. They were fairly "normal," even had a sighted daughter. Both
held jobs. Of course, they used a cane. As a kid, I thought of a cane as
something an envelid clings to, barely being able to move around. I learned
soon though, that the white cane actually seemed to give those people
freedom. They walked as fast as I did and where not tottering about, feebly
clutching their cane at all.
Those are the childhood memories I have of blind people and of seeing and
noticing a white cane for the first time. Now myself being blind, I wish I
had one. I am not there, at least not yet. I am on two crutches thanks to
bad knees and don't even know if I will be able to combine those with a
thus any knowledge I have on the use of a white cane is theoretical at
best. In addition to obviously providing mobility to its user, it also
serves to identify them as blind. I find there are two sides to the latter. A white cane would make me
stick out. I don't want to stick out. I am just good old me, just the same
I have always been, just minus my eyesight. It's that negative sticking out
that the one scene in the PROVOKER points to, the mocking call from the
passing car to look out. Yet fact is that I AM somewhat different, especially now with no travel
skills, no way much to know where or what I am getting myself into. I feel
I also have a responsibility here toward myself and towards others. If I
traipse in onto the street and in front of a car, I might endanger not only
myself but also others. A car driver would have no way of knowing I can't
see him approaching and not get out of the way in time. My ears are not
trained yet to pick up that kind of thing. And the driver might brake to
hard and/or too late and come to harm or even have a following car drive
So I acknowledge a need to be seen. Yet in this country, that is taken to a
little extreme in my opinion. Blind people normally use a white cane. In
addition, they are strongly encouraged to what I will refer to as "flag" or
put out the flags. Over here, the officially recognized symbol for a blind
person is not the little manikin with his white cane against a blue
background, but three black round dots arranged in a way they form some
sort of a triangle on some bright yellow backgrounds. There are tags out
with that symbol to be worn on your clothing, and in addition you are
expected to wear to wide arm bands on your sleeves, yellow arm bands with
that three dot symbol on you that make you stand out against anything.
If people, like me, don't use or can't use a white cane, they are required
to walk around with those "flags" up. Users of a white cane are still
encouraged to wear those armbands, too and a tag, too. If you have neither
a white cane or sporting your "flags" you can be fined when in public like
that. If a person gets into an accident without being properly identified
as being blind, they are even subject to legal action.
While I understand the need to act responsible so that self and others
don't come to harm, I strongly resent the idea of being singled out like
that. I feel that sort of "marking" a person is demeaning and sometimes
even makes me think of a dark chapter in this country's history, though I
guess requiring blind people to "flag" is not meant that way.
When I told some of my IRc buddies about this "flags up" business, they
were outraged. And I am beginning to see a big difference there too. While
both the "flags" and the white cane serve to identify a blind person, the
white cane is something positive. It is the means by which a blind person
can get around by themselves and therefore a symbol of their independence.
The yellow armbands on the other hand, make me feel like a victim,
somebody to be taken care of or mocked or whatever. It's something I have
to wear not something I would actively use. And that makes all the difference.
No, I do not wear those flags. I hate the idea. Have them fine me if they
want to. I hardly get out anyway, and if I do, not by myself. But I want
to. I long for that white cane, hope I will be able to find a way to use
one. Heck, I would love to have a guide dog, but guess with multiple
allergies, one to animal fur among those, that might not be a very feasible
This is what sprang to mind mostly. I see the white cane as something
useful, something desirable even. It does identify the bearer as blind, but
in a very positive way. I find it cool that a person using a white cane was
picked as the international symbol to identify blind related things.
Whoever invented using a white cane did great service to others. -- I'd be
interested in a little history of the white cane sometime. "
Doris Schmill(Berlin Germany, email at: firstname.lastname@example.org)
FROM ME: "Interesting! Learning about the customs concerning blindness in another country is very interesting. The "flagging" is something we are not required to do here in the USA, how about anywhere else? What other unique customs are out there? What may have brought them into being?
Notice this ladies history concerning blindness, the great grand aunt who took her own life and the couple who showed independence, adjustment and ability. How do you all think a person's own adjustment to blindness is effected by what they have experienced?
Who out there is using a long white cane along with two crutches? Who knows how it is best done?
Doris has shared with all of us her feeling and experiences with her on going blindness and we who have gone through it I am sure can share with her what we have learned that helps to work ones way through it. What would some of you suggest or say to her that will help?"
**3. " This episode recalled to my mind the lessons I learned as a girl, riding
horses. The greater the friendship between the horse and myself, the more
we were able to accomplish. Communication. I am beginning to see that this
is what grows from using the cane. It talks whether I am listening or not.
Perhaps sight is a sort of earplug for our other senses. I must tell the
story of our four kittens on the front porch. As I walk to our truck, they
swap, grab, and tackle, full body, the tip which dances and moves, teasing
them to their delight. I use the handrail. Quite a funny sight, according
to my husband."
Pam McVeigh (Herman, Nebraska, USA, email@example.com)
**4. "White Cane
I am sure glad that you made me think about my thoughts on the white
cane. 27 years ago, I started using a white cane. At that time I really
didn't need it all the time. I was embarrassed when someone would catch me
looking at them and they were looking at me. It grew to the place where I
needed it at night so that I could travel. There was no embarrassment
then. In the daytime I still didn't need it, so then I was always
embarrassed to use it. As my need for the white cane grew, I was less
embarrassed all the time. Now today, I am proud of my white cane. It
helps me to travel. I have 3 white canes I call my "guide dogs". I call
the folding one, my Chihuahua. The short strong nearly unbreakable one, is
my "farm dog" which I use when I am doing hard labor. I also have my "Vets
dog" which I use when I am going for long walks because it is long and is
the proper length for me. None of these "dogs" embarrass me. They have
never been unclean at an improper place! So as I think of it, blind people
should not be embarrassed to use their white cane. Partially Sighted
people are often embarrassed when they can see what is going on. However,
the white cane is a blind person's or visually impaired person's best friend."
Patrick "Crash" Conrad (Dunlap, Iowa, USA)
**5. "You the totally blind would be a safety risk. One I don't have to take."
(From a person living in Lincoln, USA)
FROM ME: "I feel differently. How about the rest of you?
I was not taught by a blind person, but I as a blind person have taught many totally or partially blind individuals to travel successfully and safely. So, is there a real problem here or is it a matter of choice?"
**6. About the partially sighted using a white cane. I don't. If I don't feel comfortable about going, I don't go."
(From a person in Omaha, Nebraska, USA)
FROM ME: "This is a view. Anyone else, is there something wrong with this picture...how about right?"
**7. "In my view, if a white cane gives a person freedom and mobility then
the heck with what people think. I wear rather thick glasses, but I never
(Once I was past the age of 13) worried about looking different. Also, I have
to tell you, the adage, men don't make passes at girls who wear glasses is
totally untrue. But getting back to mobility, the white cane in the proper
length assists a person in preventing accidents such as tumbling down a flight
of stairs that crop up unexpectedly, falling off curbs and train platforms,
and walking into light poles or fire hydrants, not even mentioning alerting
passing drivers to stop. All of these things have happened to people I know
who either used too short a cane or used the cane improperly, or who didn't
want to use it at all."
Lori Stayer (Merrick New York, USA)
**8. "I shiver when I hear someone say totally blind people are a risk. I have
listened to the news for years and don't ever remembering hearing a story of
one blind person killing someone while driving drunk. I'm sure that there
are many more instances but for now we'll call those thought provokers.
For those who do not know me I have been blind for 17 years live alone and
do quite well, Thank You!"
Rick O'Malley (Omaha, Nebraska, (USA
**9. "Boy, the use of a white cane had been a real struggle for me. I still have
some sight but in all reality I am a blind mom/wife/writer and teacher. My
teacher Jim Walker, used to say "Sheila, stop dragging your feet, allow the
cane some trust!" Well, I am sure Jim knew that I wasn't afraid of the cane
itself, but the sigma behind it. It took me a long time become comfortable
with what I now call me "third eye," smile. I even went the route of having a
seeing eye dog for a while, for me, just another way of avoiding the cane.
When Nedra (the dog) died, I realized that it was either cane or another dog.
I did not feel at all independent with a dog, I relied heavily on her and did
not like the idea that she really was in charge, not me. After the years, I
have become very adapted to my cane and the whole view of blindness. My
husband, having been blind for 20 years, was a great help in that area,
helping me to accept this tool. I am now traveling as I once did,
participating in various activities and weekly outings. If anything, my
"trusted cane" has aided in my regaining my independence. An after thought,
"it" doesn't have to be walked, groomed, fed or told to lay down repeatedly,
smile. "My cane," the only way to go!"
Sheila L. Loos (Lincoln, Nebraska, USA)
FROM ME: "The stigma of a white cane, the fear of blindness, the non-acceptance of the disabled are all themes that can greatly influence our desitions. But, not for long, many of us get through that period and are the better for it. This response and the next three all in their own way tell this same story. I am sure there are many other ways to tell it as well."
**10. "As a child, I hated using my cane. For some reason, I felt embarrassed. I
have some useable vision and I wanted to try to use it. However, as things
go, my views changed as I grew up. I think as a blind person, you should
use your cane at all times. You will look more confident with your cane
than you would using nothing at all. At least when you use your cane and
ask for help, such as "Where am I"? it is apparent that you are blind.
Without your cane, this would probably be looked at as a weird question.
You should also know that I am a guide dog user. And although I do not use
my dog at all times, I use my cane when I'm not using my dog."
Shelley Johns (Lincoln, Nebraska, USA, firstname.lastname@example.org)
**11. "I thought that I would write a little stuff about this last one. When I was
going to school in Neb City, a cane was not thought of. There was a guy that lived in the town who used one and we all made fun of him. That was a long time ago
though. Things sure have changed in the last fifty years. I think we were
ashamed of being blind. That is one thing the federation has done for me.
Now I won't leave the house without a cane. I guess that is all I have for
Hank (Henry) Vetter (Omaha, Nebraska, USA)
FROM ME: "A peek into the past. Any one else out there who remembers what it was like back when? We need to see where we have been, to better see where we are to day and going tomorrow. Like some of us say, "We know who we are and we'll never go back.""
**12. "We as competent blind persons need to make an positive impression where and when we can. Recently I had an opportunity to make a point on the side of blind travel instructors and the fallacy of negative based mind-sets. I was at a workshop focusing on The Afro-American Blind Client. The keynote speaker was Fred Schroeder, the commissioner of all rehabilitation services in this country.
His message was that still today too many times services are constructed upon a deficit model, looking at what the client is unable to bring to the table, rather than looking at what their strengths may be. Consequently much opportunity is lost and expectations are lower than they should be. We must be aware of this wrong approach and right it where we can.
At the end of his remarks questions were asked. I was the last questioner. To the group at large, I said something like this, "Let's demonstrate this deficit model. All of us here are enveloped in rehabilitation of the blind.
There are seventy-five of us, with twenty-fife states being represented, let's see something." I had their attention.
"There are some in this country who do not believe in blind travel instructors." Then to our keynote speaker, who I had known for years; his first rehab job was teaching travel in the agency where I worked. "Fred, you as a blind guy teach cane travel, right?"
"Yes." He answered.
"I also teach it in Nebraska. We have others that do too. Fred, if you go back to New Mexico, would you hire a blind instructor to teach travel?"
"I sure would." He answered; before his present job, he was the director of the rehab agency for the blind in New Mexico.
"Alright then, we know that in New Mexico and in Nebraska there is a belief that the blind can teach travel and that they will hire blind instructors. Sing out the names of other states represented here in this room where it is also true."
The response was immediate, A short burst of people speaking up.
Getting them to repeat themselves one at a time, we had two individuals saying Maryland and one saying California. Then there was silence.
I said, "Look at that! Four out of twenty-five. With this deficit model of services in mind, you think about this." And sat down."
FROM ME: "That was me, Robert Leslie Newman."
**13. "I have only been totally blind for about a year but what I have found out about the cane is it gets wiser to use in time. When I still had sight I was embarrass about using a cane. It was a way to be free of people looking at me, but people would look at me any way when I would run into things
and this ended up more embarrassing than using a cane and walking normal. Some people
are very interested in how you use it."
Tim olmstead (Fremont, Nebraska, USA littleox.juno.com)
**14. "There are times when I get depressed, down in the dumps. I'm not sure just where it all comes from. Mostly I'm strong, sometimes I'm weak. Is this with in normal bounds?"
(Person from Omaha, Nebraska, USA)
**15. "THOUGHT PROVOKERS" are now accessible on the World Wide Web. Here is the address, just click on it or copy and paste it in or type it in
All Provokers from the first up to the present are accessible on the web site, with all their responses. There is room for more. Add a new response to any Provoker.
Also on the web site, after Monday, look for short stories. The main characters are blind and are working through learning experiences while enveloped in other mysteries of life. Only my stories are there now, but I'm am looking for other stories similar in nature, by you.
There is also a link to other links. Not many now, but growing.
**16. "I am a person who has had useable sight since I was born, but not enough to
use without a white cane. I only wish that my parents would have known this. I didn't start using one until I was in the 5th grade. Even then I
wouldn't use it when others were around. I didn't conquer that hurdle until I was a sophomore in high school. There was a point in time though that I finally realized that I needed to use a white cane. I was walking into the post office with my mom, and a lady had come between us that I didn't know about. She must not have seen me, or thought that I had the door, but I
didn't. I ran smack into the edge of the glass door that I didn't see closing on me. Needless to say, I had quite the headache after that. I also came to terms with my blindness at this time, as did my mom. I feel that I was deprived as a child because I didn't use a white cane, so therefore I didn't understand that I was blind.
As I look back on this I wish that I wouldn't have been so stubborn about looking different as a child, but we can't ever change the past, and our parents don't always know what they are supposed to do either."
Amy Clark (Lincoln, Nebraska, USA)
FROM ME: "Isn't it true, that traveling with out knowing what is coming up is chancy business? Have you ever asked around, doesn't both the sighted and the blind all now and then have a misstep and get hurt? You know, like due to daydreaming or hurrying or the lighting wasn't right or maybe we just didn't see/hear it coming? I say, if you get up and move, expect that from time to time you will take a hit. However, I also say, do your best, watch out for yourself and others and if you need glasses or a long white cane in order to travel safely, do it.
Recall that old saying, "Seeing is believing." I believe you will agree, its not "sight" which is being spoken of, but observation and experience. Thus, doesn't it follow, the more we show others that it is "smart" to use a cane and then if we tell them about it, the quicker we can eliminate ignorance and/or embarrassment concerning its use?"
**17. "My first cane travel instructor was a sighted woman. She was a good teacher and I learned allot. We started out learning the basic technique on my own property and that was good, because I was comfortable. We branched out from there, moving around my neighborhood and this too was pretty comfortable. We did all this first steps with a blind fold on. It made sense to me that to really learn to trust the cane and to really teach my sense of touch and hearing to recognize the information the cane was giving me, that I have to solely rely upon it. We worked each week together and I practiced between visits. Learning the cane was pretty easy; it really didn't make me embarrassed either. But where I got into trouble, within myself, was when it came to crossing busy streets and highways. We worked on them for lesson after lesson. I would stand at the corner and listen to the flow of traffic, make what I felt was my best guess on when it was safe to cross and in what direction and it just wouldn't work for me. I was scared. I made several attempts to cross and if my instructor hadn't been there to pull me out of the mess, I'd probably be dead.
Sure enough, I wasn't independently crossing those streets. The result was I was stuck on my side of town and feeling bad, trapped, depressed about blindness and my future. Then she brought me a new instructor, a blind traveler, a blind teacher. He had been blind from birth. He worked out of my lady teachers' office and had his own set of students. She asked me if she could bring him, saying they often helped each other.
On the day he came out, by himself, he took me out. He ran me through my paces and then we went to where I was having my problem. And you know what, what he said, what he did with me and what he showed me worked. I don't know what he said that was different, but it worked. I have a little vision and he had none. But he had the confidence and skill and I think that made the difference. Travel is no longer a barrier for me."
(Person from New Mexico, USA)
*18. "I call myself partially sighted, where others call me blind. I use a cane now, where for a long time I didn't. I'll tell you how the change came about.
Back when I didn't use a cane, I went with my counselor to meet with an older man who had vision like mine. He used a cane. He asked me why I didn't and I explained to him as best I could.
He said, "Let me ask you this, young man, Do you run into those things you can see?"
I told him no.
He next asked, "Do you run into things you can't see?"
I said I just slowed down.
He said, "Why put up with that! Shit happens, you know."
Steve Joyce (Dallas, Texas, USA)
FROM ME: "I apologize to anyone who is offended by that single "bad-work" in the above response. I left it in to allow the gentleman's response best speak to what it was the older man said to him."
**19. "We are back on the email. I enjoy the Thought Provoker. I think the
last one has been one of my favorites. I saw Pat go through the problem of
whether to use the cane when he still had some eyesight. Of course, by the
time he was totally blind, he was using it all the time.
I was sorry to
see that someone thinks that totally blind people are dangerous. But glad
that they felt free to say it. I do not think they are as dangerous as
people who pretend to see when they really don't. They are the true scary
ones to me. Pat was much more dangerous to himself and to me when he
wouldn't admit that he couldn't see things. He got us both into some close
encounters of the dangerous kind! Now he knows his limits and is
comfortable with them. He also knows that he can do whatever he wants and
does it well. He just finished putting up an entire hanging ceiling,
something he has never done before. He also built a wall to make a room
for our son. He made the wall, anchoring it in the cement floor and wall.
He put paneling up on both sides. The ceiling looks so nice and so does
the wall. We are both proud of the good job he did. He is a very talented
man. He is also not a quitter. He is good at life, that is his best
Rory Conrad (Dunlap, Iowa, USA email@example.com)
FROM ME: "The spouse is always effected by blindness when one member of a married couple ends up blind. The family, along with the blind person needs counseling in adjustment to blindness too. Here is a woman who was there during the transitional period of her husband's slow loss and recovery. Note how she recognizes the potential danger of anyone trying to function sighted when the sight isn't really there. You bet, for any of us who are faced with blinds and its effects upon your ability to function effects our daily lives and those around us; sometimes it can be a matter of life and death, right? Wouldn't you say this woman is now a believer in alternatives?"
**20. "Just thought I would add my own two cents to the conversation.
Nine years ago when I lost my sight I was sent to Hines Blind Rehab near
I had excellent mobility instructors all sighted. I felt comforted that
they would see danger that I wouldn't.
Later though I began to have problems. Most were in just understanding
the descriptions used by the mobility instructors. About the last third
of my training I was given a different mobility instructor.
She was totally blind and I thought that I might be expected to look
after her instead of the other way around.
Can you spell MISTAKEN?
She was not only the best instructor I had, but explained things
non-visually that made excellent sense to me. From her I learned there
were only limits that we impose upon ourselves.
She demonstrated in a very positive way that the things she taught
worked, in ways that no sighted instructor could match."
(Madison, Indiana, USA, firstname.lastname@example.org
Blind Related Links
**21. "I just found your site a week or so ago and haven't had time to read
everything yet. I just finished the thread on cane use.
I still have some useful sight and don't use my cane all the time. The thing
I am finding interesting is the number of people I encounter who don't seem
to know what it means. Even when using the cane people often don't
understand when I ask them to identify the denominations of bills I get in
change so I can fold them properly. When I add dark glasses, which I often
do because bright light hurts, they get it right away. Then the problem
seems to be that people think blind means deaf and not too smart also. They
speak slowly and loudly, and if there is someone sighted with me they talk
to them as if I wasn't there. On the other hand since I have some sight I
sometimes use neither ... then if I need help I get things like "funny you
don't look blind". Almost makes me wish we did require some 'flags'. I
think lack of education for the general public is a major problem."
(No name nor location)(
FROM ME: "Interesting about how dark glasses will at times appear to be the finishing touch for some "general public" to get it, that you are blind, have a visual impairment. Almost as if the glasses are the "rest of the story" or has to be there to complete the "uniform."
**22. FROM ME: "JEff Altman put more thought into his feelings concerning this Provoker and its important issues and sent me the following message-"
Why should I use a cane?
By: Jeff Altman
This seems to be a rather common question among many of the people I meet that are new to
blindness, and for that matter some folks that have been living with blindness for many years. At
first one might want to react with a very matter of fact answer such as, "You are blind, and a
white cane is an appropriate tool for a blind person to use when traveling." However, upon
reflection, one must recognize that it is not such a simple question to answer, since the white cane
does not hold the same social implications as would a hammer for a carpenter, or a stethoscope
for a doctor. Ocupational tools are socially acceptable, and some even become simbols of high
social status, such as a judge's gavel.
There are devices that have little to do with most peoples ocupation, but are widely accepted
because they improve the quality of our lives, or are more convenient than other methods. I
believe that I can state with some certainty that most americans prefer to cook their meals using
the stove in their kitchen, rather than building a fire in their back yard each evening. Certainly
most Americans choose to drive or use some other form of mechinized transportation when
imbarking upon a long trip, rather than walking. These devices that are so much a part of our
daily lives seem so ordinary that we would hardly think of them as alternatives to the more basic
methods of cooking or traveling, and yet these very devices were nearly unheard of only a few
generations ago. The modern stove and automobile were not immediately accepted either, people
were not comfortable with this new technology, and only once they began to understand how they
worked and found that they were in fact safe and dependable devices, did they begin to stop
choppingt wood and retire their horses.
The long white cane is an alternative device and involves using some alternative techniques for the
purpose of travel, and should not be considered any less effective than the more common place
method of traveling using vision. Somehow though our society has not come to accept this
device, and often it is perceived as intheirior. More importantly, society remains somewhat
uncomfortable with the people that use this device. Unlike many new devices which are resisted
by society because the technology is not understood or preceived as unsafe, the long white cane is
quite a simple technology to understand that has been in common use for many years, and
certainly does not represent a serious safety threat to either the user or others exposed to it. Does
it not seem odd that a technology in common use for more than fifty years, and so basic in its
function, continues to be so thoroughly resisted by both society in general and those individuals
that stand to benefit most by its use.
We must understand that, in spite of our societies apparent fascination with logical thinking, the
majority of the decisions we make are based upon our emotions. We usually consider anyone that
will make an qimportant life decision with out carefully exploring and considering the facts and
possible results of the choice, to be impulsive and irresponsible. Often we make a choice based
upon our emotional reactions, and then attempt to assemble a series of logical reasons or
confirming opinions that serve to justify our actions. This emotional behavior is a major part of
what makes us human. On the other hand, it is the careful gathering and examination of the
information available, and the thorough consideration of the results of our actions, that serve as a
gauge of our maturity and wisdom. This having been said, I have chosen to write this article as an
expression of my beliefs and opinion, and I am fully prepared to accept and welcome the
responsibility for the outcome of my having done so.
I cannot help but believe that society finds the long white cane unacceptable, because, blindness is
a condition which is so surrounded by negative myths, misconceptions, and emotions such as fear.
Unfortunately, we who are Blind as members of our society can not help but share in the myths,
misconceptions, and emotions related to blindness. There is a very fine line between what we
widely accept as a social, scientific, or universal truth, and what proves to be based upon
unsubstanceuated opinion. I find it very troubling that even those individuals that hold themselves
up as experts in the field of blindness and the use of the white cane, often express through their
words and actions the oppinion that the white cane should be used only as a last ditch method of
travel. Many times blind travel students are instructed to used sighted guide whenever they are in
an unfamiliar or noisy situation, that the length of the cane must be kept to a minimum to avoid
tripping others, and that if their limited vision will permit them to travel in a familiar area, then
they should fold up the cane and depend on their vision. These recommendations represent and
reinforce a very negative oppinion of blindness and blind people. After all, If all you have ever
been told and experienced indicates that a particular set of concepts and practices are the only
possible truth, especially when this misinformation is presented by persons considered to be
experts, it becomes very difficult to consider any other possibility, even when you hold a very
different reality in your hand.
The best person to answer the question asked at the beginning of this article is the person that
asks it. It may be argued that only an expert in the use of the cane can answer this question
correctly, and I absolutely agree with this belief, but I also stand firm by my previous statement. I
am convinced that only the blind individual can and should make the decision whether to use a
cane, and in order to make a correct decision he or she must become an expert in the use of the
cane. As with any of the non-visual techniques, you cannot fully appreciate their benefit unless
you have first learned to use them effectively, and have come to truely believe in their
effectiveness. For the individual with some degree of functional vision, this goal can only be
achieved through the use of the sleep-shades, since there is such a strong tendency to use vision
rather than depending upon the feedback available through the other senses.
For my part, I will respect the decision of any blind person that has made a true effort to learn to
use the white cane and then chooses to travel without it. For those individuals that refuse to learn
these techniques, I believe that they are intitled to their choice, and hope that each of them show
the maturity to willingly accept the responsibility for the outcome of their decision. This may be a
perfectly fine choice in the course of their lives, and it may also prove to be a very poor one as
well. Unfortunately many of the blind individuals that have decided not to learn to use the long
white cane have clearly made the wrong choice and sadly, many of them do not recognize that this
was an error that is seriously limiting the quality of their lives. Should you make this choice in
your life, please be careful, and please do not blame your blindness for what does not go well in
your life. Those of us that choose to use the long white cane would prefer that society hear the
truth, and not excuses."
Jeff Altman (Lincoln, Nebraska, USA)
**23. "I thought I'd refrain from responding (so busy!) but I can't resist. It's
in response to the comment by someone that he isn't an O&Mer but he "taught"
someone else how to use a cane. That bothered me. Whether he's blind or
sighted doesn't matter, what matters is that people don't seem to think that
there's anything to learning to use a cane.
If he had said he "showed someone how to use the cane," that would be
different. That means showing how the cane is moved, the position of the
hand, etc., and I suspect that he didn't do much more than that. That is
very different from teaching someone how to use the cane. For example,
saying you showed someone how to play the piano is different than saying you
taught someone how to play piano; showing someone how to cook is different
from teaching them how to cook.
Now maybe this guy really did "teach" someone how to use a cane, but if so,
that means he showed them how to use it, monitored their use of it to be
sure the arc and movement remained consistent and then started having them
do other things while using a cane and see if the cane technique
deteriorates, and if so then practice some more without distractions until
it becomes so second-nature that they can maintain a good technique even
when concentrating on something else. You're still not done because I have
seen people who move the cane beautifully and correctly consistently, but
they are not paying any attention to what it's telling them, so part of the
practice (after they are moving it correctly without reminders and
prompting) is to have them approach a stair or obstacle or curb that they
don't expect, and see if they react quickly to the information or, as I have
seen some people do, see if they keep walking without noticing that the cane
didn't touch any ground (I intervene before they fall down the stairs).
After they learn to use the information and react to it well, then you're
still not done because if they had learned to move it correctly indoors,
when they try it outside, their arc starts to bounce high (unless they're
using constant-contact) and becomes very narrow, in response to the cane
getting stuck so much.
And I'm not even going into what you have to go through when you're working
with someone who has trouble keeping in rhythm!
So when this guy claims that he "taught" someone to use the cane, does he
mean he took the time to do all that? If not, then all he did was "show"
someone how to use the cane.
Or maybe your experience is different from mine. Maybe all you need to do
is show people how to use a cane. If there's more to it than that in your
teaching, then do you also get irritated when you hear people say they
taught someone else how to use a cane?"
Dona Sauerburger (Sauerburger@mindspring.com >
1606 Huntcliff Way
Gambrills, Maryland 21054 USA)
**24. "One question I'd have liked to see addressed here is "how do you know
it's time for a cane?
This is obvious for a complete loss of sight, but what about the
Due to some weird unexplainable problem, I've had to stop wearing my
glasses, which leaves me way past legal-blindness guidelines and unable
to focus on anything at all, plus my depth perception is pretty bad.
I can manage not to walk into things, but I've thought about a cane,
if nothing else to make life easier when I don't see rocks and street
dropoffs and can't identify people. At what point of vision loss is a
cane considered a good idea? At what point will any of the rehab-type
agencies accept me?
Then there's a small problem (a selfish one, I know) - if I go to an
official agency to request cane training, would this jeopardize my
driver's license? With my glasses, I can see just fine, except I cannot
wear them for long, and I still can't focus on anything within 4 feet. I
can drive if the trip is fairly short and I take along plenty of Tylenol
to ward off the glasses-induced headaches. Due to my husband's freaky
work schedule, I absolutely have to be able to drive, if only
occasionally. If I am declared officially legally blind, do I lose my
I know license rules vary from state to state, but I'd imagine
they'll be fairly similar, since the legal blindness rules are federal.
Kaari Parrish (North Pole, Alaska)
FROM ME: "I wrote her back with specific thought from my Rehab background. Esentually saying- As for when it is time for the long wite cane, when you feel uncomfortable and know it, admitting it to others or not. Yes, hurting yourself via an accident is not good and operating out of fear is also to be avoided. Both situations are good reason to take up the cane. I know some who use it only in specific enviriments, like in dim lighting or too bright of lighting or during times when other medical causes makes your normal vision unreliable, etc. Just be save and do not allow vision loss to slow you down. How about anyone else?"
**25. It is with great interest I am reading your Thought Provokers.
I am a Guide Dog Mobility Instructor in England who is always keen to gain
information re prejudice of long cane users and how they are perceived by
both sighted and VIs.
I am primarily involved with training visually impaired people to work with a
Guide Dog, however if this form of mobility proves to be inappropriate we
offer other mobility training, usually in the form of L.C. training with a
rehabilitation worker. Often I have heard people argue that using a L.C.
makes them "feel more blind" or some how feel less of a competent traveler.
Can someone enlighten me as to why? I am sure I will be contributing more
as I read further into your excellent site, but until then, bye.
Kiera Bentley (England)
**26. "I wrote to you for advice a couple months ago about how to tell when it
was time to start using a cane, in your "to be or not to be", and I just
thought I'd let you know how the rest of the story turned out...
First of all, thank you wholeheartedly - just realizing that it was
possible to use a cane when not totally blind was a big step. After developing
severe light sensitivity (fluorescent lights have turned into a migraine-like
headache trigger) and losing what little depth perception I had, getting
yelled at by a clerk at KMart for not paying attention to a sale sign I
couldn't see was the last straw. I got a cane a couple days ago, just walked
into the local equipment supply place and asked. It seems that "proper"
training is nonexistent, hereabouts, and with 3 small kids I can't go
elsewhere. Thank heavens for the NFB and their internet-available info!
I also should add, when I came across the thought provoker of "can blind
people teach cane travel" I thought it was a silly dispute over a non-issue.
Of course they can, and should - who better to teach it? You wouldn't ask a
mathematician to teach you to fix electrical wiring, would you? Or how about a
master carpenter teaching music? No, when you want to learn something you go
to someone who knows it thoroughly, and uses it in their everyday life.
Right now, I'd be delighted to have someone who really knows what they're
doing give me a few hands-on pointers. For me, that's somebody blind. I
couldn't care less about certification or lack thereof - knowledge is
knowledge, wherever it's found.
I had also asked about driving, and again, knowing that there are people
out there who drive and use a cane is a huge help. I did ask at our local dept
of motor vehicles - their policy is that as long as I can pass their eye test
with the glasses that I then wear for driving, they really don't care what I
do outside the car.
With the cane, I'm able to wear my glasses only for driving, and don't run
into walls or trip over curbs even with the super-dark sunglasses necessary to
be outdoors. Most importantly, for the first time since all this mess started,
I made it through an entire day with no headache. How fantastic that was!!!
So thank you again for your opinions and advice - they were more of a help
than you'll ever know. And yes, please sign me up for your thought provoker
email list - it seems I have more learning to do.
Kaari Parrish (North Pole, Alaska, USA)
**27. "I just wanted to thank you for putting together such a great web site.
I have been legally blind since birth, but was able to read print, walk
without a cane, and do things like playing football just like other kids. I
attended public schools, graduated from the University of Tennessee with a
B.S. in computer science, and became a programmer/analyst. In 1998, at the
age of 29, I experienced a terrible attack of glaucoma, which was
excruciating. In order to prevent the further growth of rogue blood
vessels, my retina was partially destroyed by laser surgery.
Since that time, I have not been able to walk independently in unfamiliar
surroundings, depending on my wonderful wife, Maria to keep me out of
trouble. Maybe it was the shock of turning 30, or the desire to make sure
that my future was not limited by my disability, but I recently began an
all-out effort to find ways to get back as much of what I've lost as
Reading your web site has really encouraged me to seek training in
orientation and mobility. I used to view my cane as a sign of weakness, and
like many others, I was ashamed to carry it. After reading through the
accounts of others who contributed to the newsgroups, I realized how foolish
these feelings were. Did I think that no one would notice I was blind if I
didn't carry the cane? I guess so, although it seems pretty silly to think
about it now.
I am now working with the Center for the Visually Impaired in Atlanta (my
hometown) to develop and gain confidence in my O&M skills. Thanks for the
encouraging short stories, and for posting the thoughts of others who have
already walked a mile in my shoes.
David L. Thurmond (Atlandta, Georgia, USA)
FROM ME: I wrote back and asked another question>.
I am not required to wear a blindfold, but I do, anyway. My instructor does
not require it, but I insisted. I wanted to train myself to use totally
non-visual techniques, since I expect that my condition will become worse in
the future. Besides, I felt it was the only way to make sure that I truly
rely on what I am learning rather than still depending on the vision I have
left. Also, it is reassuring to know that I will still be able to get
around, even if I lose my remaining vision. By the way, the opinions of
those on the Thought Provoker page pushed me in that direction. Thanks for
**28. First of all, I thank you for this Thought Provoker. It has been life changing and enlightening. The first part that caught
my attention was: "The cane freed me from having to look down at my feet."
I read this and wished I could walk without looking down at my feet.
Then I read David Stayer's comments about working with sighted people who have depth perception problems and felt hopeful
for the first time in my whole life.
I had wanted a cane for a very long time, but did not think I could get one because I am not legally blind.
As a child more than forty-five years ago I was diagnosed with a lazy eye. I went through the patching and the eye exercises.
I have worn glasses since I was three years old. Surgery was not done. I have had no depth perception for as long as I can
remember. My family accepted this and my limits as normal. I received no special consideration, except the understanding
that there were some things I could not do or did differently.
I have managed to compensate for my differences reasonably well until the past few months. I began to notice that it was getting
increasingly difficult to navigate obstacles such as curbs, steps and slants in walkways. I have not fallen but have had
my share of close calls. I was getting weary and scared. Weary of even the slightest incline being a major obstacle...Scared
of falling and seriously injured.
Thanks to the encouragement of some very special people, I purchased my first cane. I have not had it very long and still
have a whole lot to learn. I have named my cane ' WC ' for Wonderful Cane. I am so glad to have it. I don't have to watch
my feet. The glare from lights on some floors in public places hurts my eyes. Now I don't have to look at the floor or have
my eyes hurt just from walking. Now I can go down the basement steps without getting a neck ache. The cane tells me where
the slant is in the pavement. It tells me how deep and wide the steps are. It helps me get out of the van safely and more
easily. I can feel how far down the ground is. It tells me where the carpet and tile meet in the store. It tells me the
terrain is slanted even though I cannot see that it is. I don't have to use my husband as a sighted guide any more. Those
are some of the benefits my cane provides.
Now that I have it, I wish I had gotten it a very long time ago. I depend on it so much already. I am getting more comfortable
with it every day. I am learning not to worry what others think when they see me. It is better to be safe with the cane than
to fall and get hurt. When people see me with it, they know why sometimes I hesitate at the curb or when I cross the parking
I am learning to let my family open doors for me because I have the cane in one hand and a purse in the other. I am learning
to be gracious to clerks who ask if I am finding everything I need. I am learning that not everyone is considerate, but it
happens in life. In the meantime, I am learning that my increasing visual impairment is not the end of my world. Life continues.
I don't have to be as fearful as I once was.
It does bother me at times when people stare or make unpleasing remarks in my presence as if I am not aware of them. I have
been fortunate that so far only one person has not treated me as if I were not present. I chose to ignore it once. The next
time, I will speak up. I can and will hold my own when the time comes.
I am still getting adjusted to the changes in my lifestyle...It will take a while. That is OK. Change can be hard. Learning
to live as a Visually Impaired Person with a cane is not all easy. It was harder to live without it in many ways.
You asked: Who should use a cane? My perspective is that anyone who is having a hard time getting from one place to another,
even if it is on or off a step, because of any kind of visual impairment.
Norma (St. Louis, Missouri, USA)
**29. The cane. I have found that it can be the most significant and traumatic symbol not just for the person who is blind but for those who interact with us,
family, friends. It is especially controversial when it involves use by a person who is blind and may have some functional residual vision, for the person
who is legally blind with a "stable" condition, whatever "stable" means, and especially when one brings in the concept of training under blindfold to build
confidence and also maximize the transferability of the travel skills taught. And man when you talk about a blind person teaching use of a cane...things
really cook. Especially if you combine that with AER and non AER certification issues.
I did not make a commitment to using the cane until just a couple of years ago. I did not even know it existed until I saw a blind person using it at a
Lighthouse in Chicago IL when I was eighteen. I had seen folks with dog guides. At the Lighthouse in 1969, I was encouraged to "carry" a cane. I remember
using it once thinking it might keep me from getting mugged since the Lighthouse is in a bad part of town. Some kids saw me once and laughed at me for
using it. They said" you ain't no blind man, you can see". I didn't use it but carried it for awhile. A few months later I was not encouraged to use it
but was told to carry it and use my vision as much as I could not only for travel but for reading. So I was confused by two different philosophies.
It was about 10 years later when I moved from Chicago to Texas. I remember getting lost while looking for a Laundromat. I remember getting very upset that
I could not find my way around. I was using my vision. I was not really willing to use a cane although my wife at that time was blind and used a dog.
I recall the first traumatic incident when I was attending UT in Austin. It was evening and I was walking down the street with my books in one hand and a
tape recorder in another. I was OK with tape. The tape recorder did not say I was blind. I walked right into a pole in the center of the sidewalk. Most
of the people around laughed, probably thought I was drunk or high. I got a cane and began to carry it. I was still uncomfortable using it even at night.
Although I worked for a rehab center as a teacher that did not cause me to change my approach. You see at the center folks had the choice of learning to
use a cane, Braille, etc. In fact, if they had "stable" vision" and were able to get around pretty well, they might get some training in sighted guide
and even be encouraged to carry a cane. However, they quite often spent lots of time learning to use low vision devices. Of course, if they were observed
to have problems then they might be encouraged to carry or use a cane, but not required to learn or use it. Also, training under blindfold was not encouraged
other than for folks who had progressive vision loss and had night blindness or very apparent trouble. A person with stable vision would likely be referred
to another kind of center. Our center really did focus on use of vision for persons who are as I term it "blind with some vision".
I had developed glaucoma and more recently cataracts. A couple of years ago I noticed that I was almost running into or being run into by people more, just
missing or brushing against things and having a real difficult time at night. It was a combination of things including my running into a person who was
using a cane that helped me begin to use the cane more. Also, I had had some very intensive interaction with some folks who are blind use the white cane
and feel very good about it. They challenged me and our center to begin to see cane travel as a core skill needed by all persons who came to the rehab
center. I use it today pretty much all the time. There are times at work I can do without it but I use it as a person who has some vision as much to model
for students and staff as I do to facilitate travel.
It isn't always easy. Some folks have criticized my doing this at work. "you don't really need to use that...you just do it to promote your position of
it being required for training ". That's what some have said. And to an extent its true. But I also use it and feel more confident getting around. I am
challenged in other places. Recently my 13 year old son wanted me to not use it as we were leaving church to get into a car. He told me later he did not
want his friends to see that was blind.
I did not comply. I explained to him that I needed it and that it helped his friends and others be aware that I could not see them. He is OK with my using
it when I go to the Mall or the store, but not cool when his friends are around. It took a lot of confidence I think for me to maintain this position
Families are tough or they can be. They sometimes have as much as an adjustment issue to the cane and being blind as we do. That cane tells me and also them
that I am blind. I can use it and make decisions to use it every day.
I think that's the big problem...the cane tells you that your are blind. That's why it food so long for me to begin to use and get comfortable without.
Use of vision is normal, being blind and using such a visible tool is not. Students at our center who have some vision really struggle with this confidence
or adjustment issue. Some will admit it. This is compounded by staff who may feel that "forcing" a person who has vision to use a cane is not acceptable and
certainly training under sleepshades is not acceptable unless the person wants that.
Some folks like me are not ready for the cane. No one can be "forced' to use it. It has to come from understanding that the cane as a symbol of blindness
is okay. It is a tool. A positive attitude about the cane comes from experience, some of which may have to be less than positive until the person realizes
that the cane is a key to independence. Like minded supporters of the cane and its use are also important. I guess that a person is ready when by their
own experience and attitude they make the decision that the costs and risks of using the cane are outweighed by the benefits. The user must trust the
cane and probably have a pretty good internal locus of control. They must develop assertiveness and confidence to offset the negative attitudes of self
I believe that all persons who are blind including those who have some usable vision should receive training in use of the cane. Dog guide users in my opinion
need to be skilled in use of the cane also for alternate travel when the dog guide is not an option. I believe that some time under sleepshades should
be experienced by persons with some vision, if not for the transferability of skills to different environments then for confidence building.
One other thought is that I support persons who are blind as travel skills instructors. I do not think that being blind itself necessarily qualifies one
to do this training. One must be a good teacher with good skills including ability to develop trust with the student. I am fine with sighted teachers as
well, if they are qualified. By qualified I do not mean necessarily AER certified. There are many very good instructors who are products of schools that
require or promote this type of certification. The traditional training approach taught and used by these teachers is good. What I understand is that this
approach does not require an immediate experience under blindfold and often promotes use of residual vision along with use of the cane. I think there is
room for both approaches and certainly room for alternate educational approaches such as the one at Louisiana Tech.
Ed (Kunz, Texas USA)
**30. "I am a person who is blind and has some residual vision. Most of the training I have participated in and most of the training I have provided has been with
use of vision. I am not a travel skills teacher or O&M Instructor, primarily I was a rehab teacher focusing primarily on Braille and communication skills.
I have had some training in using the blindfold within the last two years, the most recent of which is Cane Skill training with Doug Boone.
I must say first that I used to be opposed to the concept of sleepshade training, I was a dyed in the wool "use it or lose it" partially sighted, low vision
kind of guy. Not that I was totally opposed to it. For the person who had some vision but had a progressive condition or just really wanted the training
under blindfold that was okay. But I was opposed to "forcing" anyone to undergo the perils of the blindfold. After all, no one was going to go through
life with it on, what sense did it make.?
It was not until I first tried a few things like doing a task analysis of teaching the slate and stylus and then getting some lessons under blindfold in
basic travel skills that I really began to reconsider. I was one who was losing vision. A few more or less traumatic incidents where I was traveling as
a "partially sighted " person helped me not only decide to use a cane but also to seek some training with it under blindfold.
The other factor which challenged my thinking was my involvement with some members of NFB who came out and began helping me understand the benefits of this
type of training.
The Doug Boone cane training under blindfold really helped solidify my positive perspective on training under blindfold for persons who are blind with some
vision. First of all is the confidence that one gains doing travel or any number of other things under the blindfold. It is incredible! Not only do you
learn to maximize your use of other senses and information, but I would argue that it in fact enhances use of vision since the skills learned can be used
either with or without one's residual vision. There is no concern about how the environment or one's functioning might change as with training with use
of residual vision. For example, on a cloudy day, or in good lighting, I can do just fine traveling outdoors or in a restaurant, respectively. But when
there is bright sun or dim light I have difficulty because the vision I have is all but useless. Learning to travel under sleepshades and having the confidence
to travel in bright sunlight and or in dim light is possible because the techniques are applicable to all situations and not reliant on the environment.
Of course, I do understand that there are some who might have difficulty with this training under blindfold from the very start, the very first day of training.
This might be due to fear, lack of understanding and even physical irritation. in situations like these, it really takes a good instructor who can develop
a relationship with the student to get them past these hurdles. So for some it may take a bit more time to warm up to sleepshades. But ultimately it is
the instructor who can make or break the technique with their attitude toward the training and the student. Some instructors do not like this approach
or at least feel it should not be required. They may feel it is a matter of "choice" for the student. However, the student does not usually know and is
not informed about the benefits and rationale behind sleepshade trainin. If the instructor has a negative attitude or is one who promotes use of vision
at any cost, then there is no point in attempting the technique unless the student gets another instructor.
Getting to the scenario, the male who peeked is not going to get the full benefit and probably did not have the confidence of the techniques taught to him.
His companion seems to be making the most of it.
I think that training under sleepshades especially with the cane is a very positive skill and confidence building activity that if not required for general
travel skills training for blind persons who have some vision, must at he very least be presented, encouraged and experienced so an informed choice can
be made by the student. By that I mean some experience of cane travel under the blindfold must be required and experienced for the student to have enough
information to make the choice about it as a part of their training plan. If the instructor is positive and if some activity is required under sleepshades,
I think in most cases it will be positive and the student will likely want to continue in this mode as a part of the training. For persons with progressive/unstable
visual conditions or with limited travel functioning because of visual or environmental changes, training under sleepshades should be required and mastered
before trying to train with vision or attempting to introduce low vision aids for travel.
Edwin Kunz (Austin, Texas USA)
**31. "I have been visually impaired since birth, and my O&M experiences were not the best. First
of all, I live 6 hours from the school for the blind in my state. Second, my O&M teacher is very rigid and goes "by the book" in his teaching method.
(He is also sighted). Your theme of whether to use the cane goes along with another part of my life that I'd like to share, which was my resistance to
assistive technology for 5 years.
I was given my first cane in fifth grade and used it diligently when Paul, the O&M teacher, and Phyllis, my Vision Teacher, worked with me, but when they
were not working with me, I put the cane away and did not use it on a regular basis. My mother tried to get me to use it, but I never used it, not until
I came to college. I have enough vision where I was able to see where I was going so I thought it wasn't necessary to use the cane. I never saw another
blind person in my hometown use a cane so I did not have a role model or mentor who said, "You need to use this!" to me like someone put it in the responses.
My mother, not knowing what to do, let me do what I wished and did not push me to use the cane.
When I came to college, I decided it was high time I begin using the cane, because I was getting more confident with other blindness skills (mainly JAWS).
When I got my new computer senior year, it had JAWS for Windows on it, and I was willing to learn the program. For 5 years before this, I never touched
assistive technology; I wanted to be "normal" and "sighted." Phyllis tried to convince me to use the programs she showed me, for instance enlarge for
the Macintosh, but I did not take her advice. In fact, I'd uninstall the programs that she installed in my Mac after she left and used the computer "normally."
In November, 1998, I was at the school for the blind in North Dakota for a Career Week with three other students, all of whom used JAWS. I felt like the
minority because I did not use JAWS to read e-mail and so forth. Up until I got my new computer, I was stubborn to using assistive technology because
it made me look "abnormal" or "BLIND." I didn't want to look BLIND by using assistive technology or the cane.
When I was at the school in '98, I began using JAWS and realized how much I had been missing by not wanting to appear VI. Because I wanted to appear SIGHTED,
I had missed so much on my computer screen because I couldn't see it. Had I used JAWS from the beginning, I wouldn't have had to SEE it, but could have
I must give one of my friends, who now lives in Washington State, some credit for helping me make this MAJOR adjustment in my attitude. Before '98, he
had been using JAWS for 3 years and Vocal Eyes before that. FYI, he has light perception so could never be STUBBORN about this. He HAD to use assistive
technology, WHETHER HE WANTED TO OR NOT. When we were at the school in '98, I discovered how knowledgeable he was with the program and thought, "I want
to know that much stuff about JAWS, DLL files, and so forth! I WANT TO HAVE KNOWLEDGE LIKE HIM!"
After that week, we began communicating regularly via e-mail, and when I got my new computer on Tuesday, February 23, 1999 at approximately 10:00 AM, I
had one more person to ask questions of if I needed help. (Back then, he lived in Valley City, ND). When I went to the school for the blind in June,
I felt SO KNOWLEDGEABLE about JAWS, even though I had only been using the program for 4 months.
When my friend and I talked, I was able to keep up with his fast-paced computer jargon and EVEN UNDERSTAND what he meant by a DLL file or JFF file. I FELT
The point of all of this writing is to show that being stubborn and not wanting to use assistive technology or the white cane could shut some doors to opportunities
that you might have otherwise. Had I not learned how to use JAWS, I would have struggled all through college and probably been unable to keep up with
my classmates in the various classes I have taken over the past three years.
I hope this helps someone. Please feel free to write me off list if you have questions about anything I've addressed.
Alexis ReaD (Moorhead, Minnesota USA email@example.com)
**32. "I used to think I didn't need a cane either, because I have some sight. I was always taught and told to use the sight I have, so it felt---to me---as if
I wouldn't be doing that if I used a cane. Also, when it was strongly suggested by a blind friend of mine that I try it, I was hesitant because I didn't
want to look different, or to stand out; I had had enough of that experience as a kid, and when the worst part of it was over, I didn't want to go back
to being in that position.
My friend asked me about it from the very first day we met, and I listened and let him talk to be polite, but had no intention of jumping in and starting
to use the cane. Every time we talked, he seemed to bring it up, telling me what a help it was. I was so stubborn that the more he tried persuading me
the more I pulled away. I even fell five feet onto blacktop, when I stepped off a loading dock I mistook for a curb. I sprained both my ankles, but still
didn't give in. A year and a half later, I returned to school, which meant riding a city bus each day to the University. I decided to try it---just to
see how it worked out. Sure enough, it was less stressful knowing the bus driver was made aware that there was a visually impaired person on board. Also,
I was able to relax when I asked for directions; it wasn't the usual frustrating routine of my asking, and their pointing and saying "It's over there."
Now, mind you, there are people who are oblivious, or just out of habit, will point. So I hold up my cane and say, "I can't see where you're pointing."
Then they sometimes launch into their excessive apologies, or sometimes they'll become flustered, or laugh at themselves saying, "Oh, of course not...what
was I thinking? I'm just so used to doing that." Every once in a while, I'll come across someone who is truly ignorant. Once when I went to buy my bus
pass, the lady behind the counter wanted to direct me to the counter with the correct employee behind it to help me. She pointed, saying "You need to
go to that one, there." I held up the cane and told her I didn't know which one she was referring to. Instead of saying, "It's all the way to your right"
or "It's the last one", she kept saying, "Over....Over....Over...." as I kept moving from one counter to the next down the row. Other customers were beginning
to laugh---not at me, but at her for handling it so badly.
The cane makes it so much easier to find steps, and I generally find people will clear out of my way when they see me coming through. I think the worst
thing, though, is that I find many people don't respect my cane as they're pulling out of their parking spaces or driving along, even when there's a place
I should cross over and have the right of way. My friend who introduced me to regular cane usage claims that where he's from it's a given that people
will automatically stop for people with white canes. While I have noticed it the one or two times I have been in the situation in his neck of the woods,
I wonder if he's a little too idealistic about it.
Children, I find, are curious, yet sometimes uninhibited---and sometimes they are shy, or told by their parents or other adults not to ask or look at me.
That bothers me. I know in our culture we are socialized not to stare, etc., but at the same time, I realize they aren't doing it to be rude---it's just
that they've never seen anyone with a cane before, or hardly ever see people with canes. I would rather have them ask about it than to hear their guardians
shushing them. I think it cultivates fear or awkward feelings in them if they can't ask questions about what they aren't understanding or what is new
to them. When given the opportunity, I tell them what it is, why I use it, and show them how it folds up and comes back out. The only kids I let try
it are those who know me personally; I want the kids to understand my cane is a tool, not a toy.
I do decorate it for different holidays, though. Last Christmas, I had red ribbon wrapped around it so it looked almost like a candy cane. I call my cane
Baston---which is the Spanish word for cane (and, incidentally, the Maltese word for cane), since going to Mexico five months after I started using it.
I wanted to know the Spanish word for cane, so in case any of the Mexican children questioned me or wanted to know what it was, I could communicate that
to them. The name just sort of stuck, and has been the source of humor in many everyday situations.
Baston has only been a source of fear twice---and both times it was with animals. Once, my friend's bird cowered in the corner of his cage, thinking Baston
was a snake. Another day, one of my friends had gotten a puppy from the pound, and when I stood near the puppy and started trying to pet him, he backed
away and leaned against my friend. She tried showing him the cane by letting him sniff it, but he was too scared. I couldn't help thinking his previous
owner may have beaten him, and I felt so bad about it.
So, overall, Baston is great---to the point that I feel almost naked if I go anywhere without "him".
**33. " As for who needs a cane, I think that the decision should primarily be up to the individual thinking for or against it. However, people who have sight
that is certain to deteriorate to minimal or none over time should start learning how to use a cane and other visual aides. This should especially begin
when the person's depth perception starts to deteriorate or is gone and/or they can only read very large print up close with their glasses but vision is
blurred without their glasses. Now, as to whether they should be trained under sleep-shades or not, I think that that has to be up to the individual being
taught. As many people pointed out in their responses, when they were losing their depth perception, they started having increasing trouble with deciphering
the depth of steps and curbs going up and down. People who can only read very large print with their glasses and have very blurred vision without their
glasses should also learn how to use and travel with a cane not only because depth perception is affected by this point, but should they ever lose their
glasses or their glasses break, they won't have a way to navigate unless they depend on others to lead them around. Such is the case with my husband,
John. John can read fourteen point print fairly well but reads twenty point and up with his glasses but his up-close vision of five feet away is blurred without
his glasses. One day, he lost his glasses out in our driveway and had difficulty finding them until he came in to fetch for his old glasses to help him.
Just a couple weeks ago, he tripped over something in our house, fell and broke his newer glasses, which resulted in he having to using his older glasses.
Talking about these situations with him and learning how to use a cane the other day, he didn't feel he wasn't ready to use a cane yet because he felt
he could still see enough to get around. I reminded him that he would need to learn how to use a cane sooner or later, especially if he ran into a situation
where he couldn't find his glasses or his glasses broke. It's not the idea of carrying a cane around that gets to him, as he doesn't see it as a shameful
thing. Rather, it's the idea of the fact that he's slowly losing his sight, I believe, that gets him--the idea of not being able to see things he once
was able to see. While I personally feel that he should start learning how to use a cane, the whole decision is solely up to him. The rate that one accepts
their own impending blindness and adjusts to it varies from one person to another. because he doesn't seem like he's ready to learn how to use a cane,
I cannot, and will not, force him into it until he's ready.
For the first eight years of my life, I grew up in an orphanage in the Philippines until I was adopted at age eight. There was very little talk, if
any, about my being blind. I always understood blindness as not having any sight, which included light perception, so I always thought that I could see
but just either couldn't see or catch onto what others were talking about when they saw something I couldn't point out. Such was the case when I was about
five years old or so. Someone told me to look up at the plane flying overhead. Of course, though I had light perception, I couldn't see it. Needless
to say, I was rather confused with what was going on. Not asking about it, I accepted the fact that I was probably just having difficulty catching onto
what they were seeing. At about the same time, someone gave me a make-shift cane and showed me how to use it. Not understanding the concept and the reason
for it, I swung the cane all over the place, which resulted in it being taken away from me. It wasn't until I came here to the States at age eight when
I started receiving professional O&M training and cane instruction. In the meantime, though, someone else gave me another make-shift cane at a foster
home two years later (I was seven) because I kept falling into ditches that were around the work area I was always taken to with the family. I was shown
once again how I was supposed to use it and did better, as I was no longer falling into the ditches.
Before I came here to the States, I also attended the one and only school for the blind in the country, where I learned a little bit of Braille. Due
to lack of funding, only blind employees working there had canes, as they paid for it themselves; thus, students walked around with their hands in front
of them or used any little vision they still had to navigate.
In all these cases of learning how to use a cane or learning Braille in the Philippines, blindness never crossed my mind. I thought all this time that
Braille was just another form of written text people read and that using a cane was likewise--something some people walked with while others didn't. After
all, one of the nuns who worked at the orphanage was very elderly and walked very slowly on a cane because of problems with her aging joints. It wasn't
until a few weeks of being here in the States when I happened to excitedly ask my adopted mother how old one had to be to be able to drive. She told me
that you had to be sixteen but that you had to have a license. Then she further busted my bubble, telling me that I would never be able to drive because
I would have to be able to read road signs and all the things drivers are supposed to be able to see and do to obtain their licenses. To make this long
story short, I was dumbfounded but was told how I would be able to travel by city buses in place of driving. I still didn't understand to what extent
my blindness, or whatever, was, , despite being sent to the school for the blind for the month long summer program with other blind children. While everyone
else had a cane, I was never given one. Perhaps, the school wasn't equipped to deal with someone who just arrived from a different country and spoke very
broken English to be able to explain adequately what was going on with and around me.
In the meantime, until my first O&M lesson five months after I arrived here to the States, I was tripping over things, falling down stairs and off curbs.
Anyway couldn't figure out how this was happening to me and nobody else. It wasn't until that first lesson, when I was being evaluated, that I was
given a cane and was taught how to use it. I didn't use it much, though, until I entered high school. I only used it during my lessons, going to and
from school or when getting things from the corner store two blocks away for my parents. Otherwise, I used the little vision I had--light perception and
colors up to my eye--to navigate around the school. That worked up until my high school years, as the schools I attended weren't very big and most of
my classes were on the same floor (I was mainstreamed and took classes everyone else was expected to take). I did use my cane in one of my junior high
schools, though, as it was very, very large with many students, and all my classes were spread out over three floors. I was transferred to a different
school where there were more disabled students, though, as I was constantly being picked on at the other school over my cane. By the ninth grade, though,
was when I was forced to use my cane more diligently, as all my classes were spread out over the two floors and from one end of the building to the other.
Moreover, there were more students, thus, more situations of crowded halls to contend with than what I'd been used to previously. Over that whole period
in high school was when I began to realize that the cane was a necessity and that it was not a shameful tool to carry and use diligently. It became okay
to be seen with my cane wherever I went to the point that I would feel naked if I walked out of my home without my cane. Of course, my mother made me
feel ashamed of it wherever we went, so I would put it away when I was with her and pull it back out when she wasn't around.
When I went to Guiding Eyes for the blind in 1998 to get my first and only guide-dog, one of the first things all of us students was told upon getting
settled in our rooms was that we were not to use our canes. I guess the whole idea was to learn to leave your cane habits behind so that you would learn
to depend on and trust the dog more than think about that cane being in front of you. While everyone else was ecstatic about putting their canes away,
I felt totally naked without it, especially those first three days before we got our dogs. I managed, but it was not at all easy for me. I started seeing
my cane, which was hidden in my closet, like a long lost friend that I wanted to see until I got my dog.
As for whether or not blind people could be qualified to be O&M instructors, asking such a question is just like asking whether or not a sighted person
could be a better computer programmer or teacher of any subject than blind people could be. No matter blind or sighted, I think that anybody could be
qualified. However, I think that the one who's most qualified is one who's been there. In the case of an O&M instructor, whether blind or sighted, they
should have good cane and travel skills under blindfold (in the case of a sighted instructor). One can have very good cane skills but not good travel
skills or vice versa. Instructors of any kind should also have patience in teaching, especially when it comes to teaching students who have difficulty
in learning, catching on, or adjusting to the idea of the cane in the case of this topic. The only advantage to having a blind O&M instructor, though,
is the fact that they're always in the position of having to use a cane to travel in the first place; thus, if already well-trained and well-skilled, he/she
can teach other blind people cane and travel techniques that a sighted instructor may not have ever thought of because the sighted is constantly using
the vision that the blind instructor would have minimal to none of. The blind instructor has also been where the new student still adjusting is--the social
implications and symbols that are negative and positive about using a cane, etc. As I learned cane and travel techniques and became more comfortable with
going everywhere with my cane, I not only was putting into constant practice techniques my sighted O&M instructors taught me, but I also learned other
techniques from other blind people through descriptions and situations they were relaying to me; listening to the clicks in the light boxes at lighted
intersections along with all the traffic around you, for example, so that you would know when you had the right of way before your parallel traffic started
up. Tips like this helped (when there was such a clicking light box) me in situations when the parallel traffic was waiting for me to cross before they
turned. in front of me.
Don't get me wrong. I used to question the possibility of blind O&M instructors as well when I first heard about it fourteen years ago. My opposition
to such an idea changed, though, five years ago. A friend of mine (he's also blind) and I were crossing a very, very busy street to catch the city bus
from the state services for the blind one day. As we were getting ready to cross the last half of the intersection before the light changed, a driver
who wasn't watching what they were doing came barreling in front of us and almost hit my friend, who was walking two feet in front of me. I quickly grabbed
my friend and pulled him back my way. He didn't know what had happened until afterwards, when I told him about the car. He didn't hear, or wasn't listening
for, the fast-approaching car. He'd just missed getting hit by a foot. If I had not pulled him back when I did, he would've been either hit and bruised
or hit and killed before my eyes. So, just because an O&M instructor is blind doesn't mean that they have to be able to see to intervene in dangerous
situations like that one. Of course, the instructor would have to walk in toe of their student much closer than a sighted instructor does, but the job
is still being performed likewise. Not only is that one of the most important things, but the other most important thing is that the student is learning
to travel safely and efficiently like a sighted person.
**34. This is an issue which really pushes my hot buttons.
I have had fully sighted O&M instructors all my life, and they all were
wonderful. I'll bet that my O&M instructors would be very insulted if they
found out they weren't doing a very good job with their students. I think
someone who has little or no vision should not be an O&M instructor unless
they are only teaching someone how to use the cane. I am greatly perplexed
by the fact that some people feel differently about this, and here's why.
When someone who is blind or visually impaired learns how to safely cross a
street, it is dangerous to assume that an instructor who is
visually-impaired or blind themselves can effectively see the traffic, every
single vehicle and every single thing that darts across the street. What
happens if a vehicle is very quiet in passing, and someone with little or no
vision crosses right in front of the vehicle? I think the focus here should
be placed on safety, rather than getting all hyped up about capabilities and
such. Sorry this response seemed so abrupt, but I really don't feel that
this should be an issue. The life of the student, as well as that of the
instructor, is in jeopardy when the student is instructed by someone who
can't see very well themselves, when it comes to crossing streets,
especially busy ones where there's a lot of traffic. Thank you.
Jacob, Chicago USA
**35. To me, the answer to this question is pretty obvious. I do not think a blind or visually-impaired person can safely teach travel skills, with the exception
of learning to use a cane or a guide dog. Even a guide dog user teaching someone might present problems, but I've not known many guide dog users around
where I live. I think that in order for a student who is learning, say, how to cross a street safely, that student needs the observation and instruction
of somebody who can see perfectly. I was always taught that safety comes first when doing anything at all. Throughout my life I have always been taught
O&M by O&M instructors with perfect vision, and I'm not dead yet. Nor have I been injured on a lesson. Well once I did fall down but that was not the instructor's
fault. I was also stung by a bee on a lesson. Other than that nothing bad has happened to me. Each instructor I had was not only a nice person, but each
was qualified and in one case a friend who is not qualified as an O&M instructor offered to teach me the routes for a job I had where he was on staff.
These people all did a very good job. They were very knowledgeable, and they explained things very well. Another friend even took the train with me into
downtown Chicago and did a superb job pointing out clues and landmarks. She happened to be from another country and still did quite well. I personally
would like to hear from visually-impaired or totally blind O&M instructors, how they go about teaching someone say street crossings. I would think that
even with accessible ped signals this would present somewhat of a problem. So any of you visually impaired or totally blind O&M instructors out there,
how do you get these points across to your students without jeopardizing your own life? Please note I'm not trying to be mean, but rather I'm very curious.
This coming from someone who considers himself a very good outdoor traveler.
Jake Joehl, Chicago USA