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.