How I See the White Cane

Penny learning to use white cane and hands to explore a fenced area in the mall. The sign on the fence begins with the words "Please Read and Follow All Rules"
Penny learning to use white cane and hands to explore a fenced area in the mall. The sign on the fence begins with the words “Please Read and Follow All Rules”

I had an experience yesterday that shook me to my core and inspired me to see my white cane in a new light.  It was the first time I experienced how unkind the world can be to someone who experiences vision loss.

I traveled to a public mall in a larger town a few miles from where I live in rural Montana to meet with my orientation and mobility therapist.

I was to receive a lesson on how to use non visual skills and a white cane to compensate for the changes in my sight.

A blind fold was placed over my eyes to prevent me from using my sight and begin training me to use non visual skills to keep me mobile, confident and safe in public and unfamiliar places.

Just as we got started the mall manager asked us what was going on here and informed us mall policy required we supply proof of insurance to teach me to shop in the mall with a white cane.

For many years now I have suffered privately about how difficult it is to explain to others what I see and how it affects my ability to perform everyday tasks.

Even those closest to me often think I am faking it when they notice I can see or do something that to them means I can “see perfectly”.

Each time I experience another eye surgery everyone assumes it means the issue I had prior to the surgery is fixed and my eyes are good as new.

What I actually experience is how each surgery changes the way I see things and my functional sight lessens each time.

The most recent change in sight was a wake up call for me.

With the help of Blind and Low Vision Services Vocational Rehabilitation program I am becoming seriously pro active in learning new skills to support me in living life full and large regardless of my shifting sight.

At first when they suggested I learn to use a white cane my own judgement of that symbol was challenged.  But my desire to be open to their expert guidance caused me to be willing to explore it.

When I stumbled and almost fell flat on my face stepping on stage to receive an achievement award at a national convention of 30,000 people the need for the white cane as a powerful tool in my life became glaringly obvious.  My sight failed me but the white cane could have told me the floor dropped off a couple of inches in that spot.

It also could have helped when I found myself alone and disoriented asking for assistance and being misunderstood because I could not see what others thought I could.

I came back from that event determined to let go of my own judgement about the white cane.

I decided to stop caring what others think and focus on doing what is best for me.

I was still working through my inner struggle to use this device in public when I was misunderstood in the mall.

Most people think the use of a white cane and non visual skills is limited to someone who is totally blind.  Nothing could be further from the truth.

Only about 15% of people with vision loss are totally blind.

As I explore the many ways this tool is useful to me in my everyday life and I overcome the inner struggles I will share more with you in my blog and my Youtube channel.

My intent in sharing my experience in the mall is to help others understand when they see someone with a white cane that person has lost varying forms of functional use of their eyes.

Know also that they have been trained to use this device to help compensate for that loss.

Most of all understand it took a lot of courage to overcome their own resistance and fear of how others will treat them when they use the white cane.

Today is National White Cane Safety Day.  I decided to use it as the day I stop hiding my vision challenges and announce to my family, friends and the world that I am now the proud user of a White Cane.


12 thoughts on “How I See the White Cane

  1. Dearest Penny,

    My heart is bursting with admiration for you! Your Journey has been a challenge and at the same time you continue to readjust and maintain your positive outlook while teaching others to understand.

    Thank you for your inspiration and for being so Beautiful!

    Much Love ♥

    1. Joan, thank you for your kind words. As I have overcome my own misunderstandings I feel an obligation to educate, inspire and empower others experiencing various forms of loss of functional sight. This experience just pushed me forward a little faster than I expected. Don’t you just love how life takes unexpected turns? You have to love and embrace it all. Love you.

  2. Penny, You have always been a leader and it appears your work is not over. Rude and ignorant people sometimes are unfair and unkind in their words or deeds to others. Sounds like the mall manager needs diversity training.

    Your bravery and tact in dealing with this issue may help someone who does not have your strength and clarity from being totally destroyed by the approach this individual exhibited. You may well change the environment so that others may have a less disruptive or abusive experience going forward.

    You are beautiful, inside and out, and I know you will turn this lemon into wonderful lemonade.

    1. Julia, you are so sweet. Thank you for your insights. I do feel if we embrace our adversity we find the gift wrapped inside.

      The more I have learned on my journey through ever changing sight I felt the need to share what I am learingd to assist others on their path.

      Larger numbers of our generation are experiencing various forms of functional loss of sight and think the only way to compensate is from surgery. It does wonders but there are many tools available to help a person continue to do the things they love.

      At first I withdrew to the safety of my home and suffered in silence. I see so many people doing the same. Perhaps I can shed light on a topic so few are willing to explore.

      The lady was very sweet and just trying to do what she perceived as her job. I would like to think she just misunderstood the policy. I will ask for clarification. At the time my therapist was being paid to teach me and I had the need to make an eye doctor appointment to follow up on my last eye surgery. So I chose to postpone my inquiry.

      I am curious if they feel people with regular canes, crutches, walkers and wheelchairs need to provide the same level of proof? Ha Ha. 🙂

      Thanks for being such a good friend. I miss being closer. Let’s talk again real soon.

      Love you,


  3. Penny, you have educated, inspired and empowered me more than you’ll ever know. Thank you. I admire you, now more than ever. You go girl!!

    1. Liz, thank you for your kind words. You are a pretty brave and inspiring woman in your own right. Love you.

  4. Dear Penny~
    You are the most courageous lady I know.
    The inroads that you are making for youself and for others overcoming the FEAR and breaking the CHAINS of misconception which have PARALIZED previous GENERATIONS is truly inspiring ….
    Penny ~ I am so PROUD TO KNOW YOU ♡
    God bless you my friend and May this new chapter in your life be as fulfilling to the world as those previous inspiring chapters you have shared with all of us.
    God speed.
    Much love and success.

    1. Waynette, I am so touched by your sweet words. You have been a great support and help in giving me wings and lifting me out of the dark. I am grateful for your generosity and partnership, but most of all your friendship. Watching your courage to overcome your fears and past helped inspire me to move forward. Thank you for lighting the path and leading the way. I love and appreciate you more than you know.

  5. Dear Penny,
    It is really sad there are so many uninformed people, especially who work with the public.
    Since we work with people with vision loss on a daily basis, we see what you are talking about. With everyone, there is a grieving process and the feeling of isolation is a normal part while you try to figure out how to deal with it and from those who don’t understand.
    You are very brave to reach out and decide you didn’t need to confine yourself to home.
    You are an amazing positive person and will be a great advocate, not just for yourself but for others who are going through a similar experience.
    The mall manager doesn’t understand that while you are working with the OM/RT that you and they are covered by the OM/RT’s employers insurance, ie. The State of Montana, if it was through Blind and Low Vision.

    1. Carolyn, thank you for your kind message. I know she was only doing what she felt was her job enforcing a policy. If the policy needs to have a light shined on it perhaps I can help facilitate the change in a gentle way.

      I was surprised at how it affected me. It actually made me decide to use my cane more often and stop feeling the need to hide or limit its use. Many people suffer in silence not knowing there are multiple options to compensate for their changing sight and continue to do what they love.

      I am incredibly grateful for the assistance of Blind and Low Vision Services over the years. Without their support I would not have two profitable businesses and a future filled with possibilities. I feel blessed and I also feel an obligation to share what I have learned in hopes it will empower and inspire others who are not as fortunate.

      I am delighted to learn of you and your services. I would love to learn more about what you do. Thank you for commenting. I look forward to meeting you in person.

  6. Following you on this journey Penny has been a wonderful inspiration, your ability to love what is is a shining example to all who love you. As we walk with these issues we have been given (gifted?) there are revelations around every corner – although I am sorry this one included such a dose of bureaucratic discrimination.

    Of course your determination to drop your judgment around the cane is also a powerful teaching, I am grateful for your courage in getting there. I am sure that you will be graced with many opportunities to share your experience, strength and hope with others in similar circumstances – and look, you are already a master at long distance telephone relationships !

    Miss you, be well as the days shorten

    1. Doug, thank you for your kind words. I appreciate your support and encouragement over the years.

      Who knew a simple white cane could be such an important teacher?

      I am learning to let go of my judgment and welcome the many ways it can benefit and support me on more levels than a physical tool. It is a fascinating experience.

      I love you, my friend. Blessings.

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