In Recognition Of My White Cane

A closeup of a blind pedestrian's white cane while walking and detecting markings on tactile paving with textured ground surface indicators for blind and visually impaired.

Beauty Buzz/Blog Biz | In Recognition Of My White Cane 

“We gain strength, and courage, and confidence by each experience in which we really stop to look fear in the face … we must do that which we think we cannot.”

~Eleanor Roosevelt

October 15 is White Cane Awareness Day. The white cane and a guide dog are important mobility aids for those with visual impairments. People all along the spectrum of vision loss may use either a white cane or a guide dog to move around or make known their visual impairment. These give us more independence and confidence and help us communicate that we cannot see and to get around safely. 

I have always been visually impaired, and in fact legally blind. I was able to get around fairly well, at least in my opinion, without a mobility aid for many years. Now, that certainly does not mean I did not run into things, trip over things, or even have falls… because I did. Maybe a white cane would have been helpful earlier in my life. I know that I walked fairly hesitantly, especially in unfamiliar or dark areas. Let’s admit it, I shuffled my feet.

One day an orientation and mobility instructor, who was my co-worker, said to me, “you can choose to look blind or drunk.” As a young professional working in the vision rehabilitation field, I realized I should consider using a mobility aid, because it now seemed no one was fooled… it was obvious I could not see. 

A closeup of a blind pedestrian's white cane while walking and detecting markings on tactile paving with textured ground surface indicators for blind and visually impaired.

“Don’t wait until everything is just right. It will never be perfect. There will always be challenges, obstacles and less than perfect conditions. So what? Get started now. With each step you take, you will grow stronger and stronger, more and more skilled, more and more self-confident, and more and more successful.”

~Mark Victor Hansen

I started using a white cane approximately 25 years ago. However, I admit that when I say started, I mean that I began using it in very minimal places. I was comfortable using it with strangers and in places I did not go often, and at work, since I worked with people who were visually impaired. It was really hard to start using it with close family and friends.

The really funny thing is that the family and friends are the ones who most know we need to use a mobility device… and when we finally do they are somewhat relieved. However, it is true to say that it is also a moment of realization to them that indeed we are significantly visually impaired. It’s an adjustment for us as the person with vision loss and for our loved ones.

“Never bend your head. Always hold it high. Look the world straight in the eye.”

~Helen Keller

Why do we struggle with using a white cane? I think it is because at that point we must admit that we truly do have a “disability.” For years I did not want to be a person with a disability. I did not want people to think I was less or not a whole person. I know many people struggling with acceptance of their vision impairment experience the many feelings of loss, grief, anger, frustration, and even depression of facing life as a person with vision loss.

I will say that once I finally accepted that things were not going to change, and that the reality was that my vision was only going to get worse and if I wanted to live and work I had to take responsibility for my own skills and independence life and my attitude changed… for the better.

Once I became a confident white cane user and eventually added a guide dog to my mobility options, I became a much more confident, independent and safe traveler. I regularly travel around the country for work and fun… and you can too! 

“The way to develop self-confidence is to do the thing you fear and get a record of successful experiences behind you.”

~William Jennings Bryan

Yes, there will be those who you encounter who do not know what the white cane is. I’ve heard many funny stories regarding what people think the cane is, including a fishing pole, a broken golf club, a walking stick, etc. And, oh the things people call it, including my favorite the “blind stick.” And, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been asked if my guide dog is in training.

But, I will say the cane and guide dog have also been very helpful in my self-advocacy, since I don’t have to explain in detail that I cannot see something. The cane makes it clear that I have a visual impairment. And, I will also say that generally people respect you for getting out there and living life… as they recognize it is a challenge. Eventually with practice and use you can become such a good cane or guide dog user that people stop focussing on those and see you for who you are. 

 “When you’re different, sometimes you don’t see the millions of people who accept you for what you are. All you notice is the person who doesn’t.”

~Jodi Picoult

I leave you with these very wise words from Christopher Robin, side-kick of Winnie the Pooh. 

“Always remember you are braver than you believe, stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think.” 

Get those white canes in hand and get out there and live your life!

By Sylvia Stinson-Perez

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Author Bio:

The author’s bio photo is a glam photo of Sylvia in a pink dress with spaghetti straps. Her hair is in a fancy updo with a pink flower on the left of her bun.
Sylvia Stinson-Perez

Sylvia Stinson-Perez has spent her career in the blindness field, and is the Chief Programs Officer for the American Foundation for the Blind. Sylvia believes the authentic shared experience of living with vision loss can lead to the development of bold confidence in living with blindness. She loves helping others find their beauty and courage on this journey.

Sylvia has Master’s degrees in Social Work, Visual Disabilities Rehabilitation, and Business Administration. Sylvia is blind as a result of Retinitis Pigmentosa (RP), however, she believes that everyone should have the opportunity to achieve their potential.

Sylvia is a wife, a mother, a friend, an advocate, and a professional dedicated to making a positive difference. She enjoys reading, cooking, travel, crocheting, writing and public speaking, and time with loved ones.

Image Descriptions:

  • The header and second photos contain a closeup of a blind pedestrian’s white cane while walking and detecting markings on tactile paving with textured ground surface indicators for blind and visually impaired.
  • The author’s bio photo is a glam photo of Sylvia in a pink dress with spaghetti straps. Her hair is in a fancy updo with a pink flower on the left of her bun.
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