The cane is something I’ve wanted to talk about for a while here on my blog but for some reason I never got round to it. I always put it to the back of the queue of posts I wanted to write because I wasn’t sure what to say, I didn’t know how to explain my feelings towards it and quite frankly I wasn’t sure how many people would be interested in hearing about my thoughts and feelings towards the mobility aid that I used to dread using.
But as the RNIB very kindly asked me to take part in their latest campaign, I gathered that this was the perfect opportunity for me to write about my experience using the cane and talk about the debate the campaign focuses on.
RNIB’s #HowISee campaign has been running for quite some time now and I’ve written two posts in response to it, you can read my latest one here. They recently launched this video talking all about whether or not the traditional white cane should be personalised or if it’s better for it to remain its traditional colour. In today’s post I’m hoping I can share my views on this debate but before that I want to share my experience of using the cane with you as I’ve never talked about it in much detail on my blog before.
I started to receive mobility training with a cane when I was about 8 years old. As you can imagine learning to use this mobility aid at such a young age was quite daunting. At this time I was still coming to terms with my diagnosis and trying my very best to understand it, this was hard enough in itself and being introduced to the cane made it harder in a way because I didn’t like the thought of being different. I was being bullied at this time and didn’t want to give any more reason for other kids to make fun of me.
I felt like the odd one out because of my vision impairment as it was so I didn’t want anything else to make me feel that way even more. As I was so young when I started the training I wasn’t really aware of the benefits of the cane, what it was, how it would allow other people in the public to realise that I had a vision impairment and therefore needing that mobility aid to navigate my surroundings. But I was unconfident, insecure and afraid and that’s why I put my cane to one side and didn’t pick it up again for eight years (until I was 16). There would be the occasional time during that period where I decided to pick it up and use it around the house to see how it would benefit me but I never took it outside but looking back, I probably should have.
There were a number of times when my QTVI (qualified teacher of vision impairment) and my mobility instructor would try to prompt me to use the cane around school, they claimed that it would help students to realise that I had a vision impairment and that it would help me in some way, I however didn’t see it that way. I considered the cane to be something people would judge me for, especially those around the same age as me. I was determined not to use it, especially at school and because of my determination not to use it, it just never happened during that time.
During my first year of sixth form I was introduced to a new mobility officer who was so lovely and I got on really well with her. She gave me the motivation I needed to pick my cane back up and look at it in a positive way rather than in a negative one. We seemed to be on the same wave length and I felt more at ease with her than I did with my previous mobility officer. She managed to pick my confidence back up when using the cane and I soon learned to embrace it rather than letting it define me. Although I was still adamant not to use it at school, I started going out and about with my cane and started to learn the techniques of using it again. This was a big step for me but I’m really glad I took it.
We started out by going to quiet areas in my local area and then as my confidence grew we started going into the busy towns which I must admit I was nervous for at first but as I went more often, I started to feel more at ease. Not having that feeling of dread and anxiety to use my cane was such a relief for me and I’m so grateful that someone was able to give me that confidence I needed when using it.
Since starting to make use of my cane again in 2015, my confidence has grown in using it. I can’t deny that I still get the occasional flutter of anxiety and self-consciousness when using it but that is very rare compared to what it used to be. If I go out independently then I’ll use my cane to navigate my surroundings and feel no shame in doing that. No one should feel ashamed to use a mobility aid, I’ve definitely learned that over the past couple of years. If it helps you in some way then why not embrace it rather than feeling ashamed or embarrassed by it?
Of course, not everyone is going to be accepting or understanding of the cane, what it means for us blind/VI people and how it helps us and I do get the odd funny look when I go out and about but if my cane allows me to gain independence, those looks and judgements don’t matter to me.
The cane debate
There is a lot of controversy within the blind/VI community at the moment. People are debating whether we should use the traditional white cane or if it’s acceptable to use a coloured one.
Although I’ve had my moments of feeling self-conscious when using my cane, I’ve never felt ashamed or conscious of it because of its colour. It’s never something I’ve thought too much about to be honest. I wasn’t aware that it was possible to customise a cane until a year or so ago so that’s why I’ve always been a user of the traditional white one.
I believe that the cane is not only a mobility aid for those of us who are blind/VI but it’s also an indicator to members of the public that we have a vision impairment and that they need to be aware of that. I don’t think that many people are educated on what the cane is and what it means but those who are will typically assume a blind/VI person to have a white cane as it’s recognised universally. Having/using a coloured cane might lead to some confusion amongst the public but this doesn’t mean that a coloured cane shouldn’t be used, at the end of the day if the coloured cane is seen more often, people will become aware of it and therefore will eventually be educated on its purpose although this might take some time.
I think it’s a nice touch when we are able to customise our mobility aids. It allows us to make it more personal to us and feel more confident about it when using it. I’ve heard that many people prefer using a coloured cane because it’s more of a reflection of their personality and it allows them to put their own personal stamp on their disability and the mobility aid(s) they use.
Using a coloured cane does come with its pros and cons but then again so does using a white cane. As I said before, people might be more aware of the white cane and what it’s used for and might be confused by the concept of a coloured cane but on the other hand, using a coloured cane can spark conversations, it can intrigue people and encourage them to communicate with you which might not happen when using the traditional cane. In my opinion, it’s all down to personal preference at the end of the day. We shouldn’t be told which cane to use, we should use the one that we feel comfortable and confident in using, the one we don’t feel ashamed or embarrassed to use when out and about.
I’ve never had or used a coloured or personalised cane so I can’t comment on whether or not I prefer them to the traditional cane. Although I might look into getting one in the new year and see how I feel about it but for now I have no problem with using my white cane and I can only hope that my confidence continues to grow when using it.
Personally, I don’t see myself ever choosing to use a coloured cane over my traditional white one but there’s no particular reason for that, it’s just what I’m used to. I’ve already mentioned that I’m going to look into getting a coloured/personalised cane because I’m interested to know how I’ll feel about it. Who knows, my views might completely change.
I don’t think there should be a right or wrong answer to this debate, as I said before, it’s all down to personal preference and what people feel confident in using. Everyone has their own preference as to what mobility aid they use and what colour cane they use. Some might want to stick with the traditional cane because they feel safer that way but others might want to express their individuality and put their own stamp on their cane and I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that.
Are you blind/vision impaired? If so, what are your thoughts on this debate? Be sure to let me know as I would love to hear from you.
Don’t forget to get involved in the campaign/debate by using #HowISee. Thank you again to the RNIB for asking me to get involved.