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Gain Independence & Rock The Cane

Gain Independence Featured image description is in the body of the post.

It makes sense for advocates to be borne out of situations in which we find ourselves, like disabilities for example. However, let’s not forget those who dedicate their time, talents, and passion to improve our lives with the gift of independence.  

Bold Blind Beauty

The following article written by Jennifer Freeman Fullerton speaks to her role in helping people with sight loss regain their independence.

Gain Independence & Rock The Cane

Image description is in the body of the post.
#1 – Jennifer Fullerton

I have been an Orientation and Mobility (O&M) Specialist in the San Diego County area for approximately twelve years. My experience encompasses working with children ranging in age from three through twenty-two. Many of the students I have worked with have multiple disabilities.

Passionate about what I teach, I focus on helping my students gain independence in all aspects of their lives. As a professional in the field, I’ve seen first-hand what a long cane does for a student with vision loss. The level of independence and confidence a cane provides, cannot be described in words. I often show up to school campuses and am told by staff that my students are running down the hallways. Of course, as their O&M Specialist, I don’t want to hear that but as their teacher, I smile because I know that I was a part of building that confidence.

Image description is in the body of the post.
#2 – Jennifer & her daughter

Adding Technology To The Mix

Since technology is opening up so many doors for people with disabilities, I have pursued as many learning opportunities as possible.  Specifically, anything that can help people who have visual impairments. What I have observed across all educational platforms is that technology is underutilized, especially applications (apps). For that reason, I began writing blogs for Cane and Compass to share my ideas with an emphasis on how to incorporate technology into O&M instruction.

I recently started a Rock the Cane Facebook Page and Campaign about two months ago. Since entering my amazing profession, I have dreamed of starting the campaign, long before any type of smart device or social media platform was available to utilize. I consider Rock the Cane to be my hobby and passion project. My goal with the campaign is to change the world’s perception of vision loss. I believe that by invoking help from the community, social media, people in power and individuals who know what it’s like to live with vision loss, we can work together to globally change perception.

I am lucky and blessed to impact the lives of many in my community who have vision loss.

Gain Independence Featured Image Description:

Jennifer is wearing a Rock the Cane navy t-shirt with images of brunette cartoon characters wearing black sunglasses. The image on the left is a brunette male and the image on the right is a female. Both characters are rocking long red and white canes. Jennifer is standing in front of a window and wood bench.

Additional Images:

  1. In this photo, Jennifer is wearing a navy “Orientation & Mobility Specialist” sweatshirt. This shirt has a graphic of a female cartoon character rocking her long cane. 
  2. Jennifer and her young daughter are holding hands. Jennifer is wearing a Cane & Compass gray tee that says “It’s Just A Cane.”

Connecting With Jennifer On Social Media:

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People Always Ask: Is Kai Really Blind?

Kai skimboarding

Blindness has changed our lives and has forced us to see the world in a new way. As a mom, I’ve had to constantly reevaluate what I “think” about blindness and replace my outdated thoughts with our new lived experiences.

~Kim Owens

People Always Ask: Is Kai Really Blind?

Hi, I’m Kim Owens. I am a wife, blogger, watercolor artist, swimmer and I’ve been fighting a tough autoimmune disease for the last 9 years. I’m also the mother of 2 boys–Cash an avid rock climber and college junior studying geology and Kai a sponsored skimboarder and drummer in a local rock band. Kai’s also held the highest GPA in his class for the last 5 years and accomplished all of this while going blind from Retinitis Pigmentosa (RP).

Family of 4 sits around a table enjoying a meal.

People are always asking “Is he really blind?” When we say, yes, they typically reply, “I don’t know how he does it. He’s amazing! If I were blind I would never leave my house.” To which we say, “Yes, he’s amazing, has lots of support, and we don’t allow ourselves to project our fears about blindness onto him.”

Blindness is one of the most feared conditions in the world. If this fear is allowed to propagate unchallenged, it will create a barrier between blind and sighted people.

Blindness Is Just Another Way Of Seeing

Blindness changed our lives and has forced us to see the world in a new way. As a mom, I constantly reevaluate what I “think” about blindness and replace my outdated thoughts with our new lived experiences.

For example, my fear may say: “No, he can’t go into town with his friends. Who will make sure he’s safe when crossing the streets?” But my voice of experience overrules these outdated thoughts with: “He is probably safer than his friends who are walking while staring at their phones. Kai is highly trained in orientation and mobility and as long as he uses his cane then I will allow him to go.”

Kai began skimboarding when he was 3 and fully sighted. As a blind teen, he’s continually improved his skills and has graduated from sand skimming to skimming the big waves. Kai typically meets up to skim with other local skimboarders early in the morning before the beach is crowded. So when he wanted to compete in an out of state skimboarding competition, my fear said:

 “There is no way he can compete against sighted skimboarders, on a crowded, unfamiliar beach.” But my voice of experience spoke up and said: “Maybe I just need to look at this differently…”

Kai

With Creative Thinking There’s Always A Way

  • What if there is a cane tip that can be used in the sand? YES! Check out the Dakota Disk.
  • What if competition organizers were open to the idea and able to offer a sighted guide? They were thrilled, they agreed immediately, and several pros offered to assist.  
  • What if he had the opportunity to compete and change public perceptions of what is possible for blind kids? Event organizers asked him to give a live interview in front of the crowd and he provided the audience an opportunity to try on simulation glasses. Many beliefs about blindness were changed that day.

Do you see the difference in these thought patterns? It’s a mind shift that starts with awareness of our thoughts. In my blog post “A New Way to See” I describe the exact moment I became aware of the disparity between my thoughts and reality – and it was a life changer.

Kai’s Achievements & Continuing Success

For me, it all boiled down to realizing that my internal thoughts were limiting my ability to be fully present to my son’s real-life experiences. In the last 6 years Kai:

  • learned to read Braille and Nemeth code
  • became proficient at using assistive technology 
  • learned how to navigate busy city streets with a cane
  • continued to skimboard and skateboard
  • became a drummer in a rock band that does gigs all around town  
  • is attending honors courses at our local high school

In addition to everything Kai has already achieved, his short-term plans include learning to snowboard and applying for a guide dog. Thankfully, his dad, brother and I have been fully present and able to support his journey toward independence.

Chances are that your visually impaired child is not interested in skimboarding, but no matter what their passion, please don’t let your own fears become a barrier to your child’s success.  

Featured Image Description:

Kai is skimming a wave creating a large spray of water in his wake. He’s wearing a black wetsuit and bright yellow jersey that reads Blind Athlete.

Additional Images:
  • The family of 4 sits around a table enjoying a meal.
  • Kai as a 3-year-old skimming the whitewashed sand, and his 8-year-old brother Cash is holding a skimboard in the background.
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Vulnerability, Sight Loss & The White Cane

Vulnerability, Sight Loss & The White Cane featured image description is in the body of the post.

Vulnerability, Sight Loss & The White Cane

“What bothered me most about my sight loss was my fear of people knowing I couldn’t see. Everywhere I went I felt so vulnerable and isolated not to mention, my anxiety levels rocketed off into the stratosphere.”

The first time I picked up a white cane was when my Orientation & Mobility (O&M) Specialist introduced me to one for my training. Perhaps it was the novelty of a new gadget is what prompted me to follow through but secretly I was bitter.

Oh, don’t get me wrong, in the privacy of my home it was okay to learn proper white cane techniques. Practicing in public was a different story.

  • What would people think?
  • Are they looking at me?
  • What if I run into something or someone?
  • Are they laughing at me?
  • Do I look foolish?
  • Are they talking about me?
  • Why? Why do I have to do this?

On and on these and many more questions ran through my head. I felt scared, exposed, and vulnerable. I hated vulnerability.

After my O&M training was complete I was free to use my cane independently. So what did I do? Simple, I stashed it away and continued living pretending.

With the exception of family, co-workers, and friends, no one knew I couldn’t see. The problem was I seldom went anywhere alone because while I didn’t look ‘blind’ I was.

So I continued my charade until the day I wanted to take a short stroll. I’ll never forget; I was at work it was the middle of the afternoon and I needed a little snack. I could have asked any number of people to go with me but I wanted to do this on my own. Afterall it was no biggie, and I was familiar with the route to the store which wasn’t far from my office.

So Clever & So Foolish

On the elevator ride down to the lobby of my office building I had second thoughts but squashed them. As I pushed through the revolving glass doors out onto the plaza I thought “maybe I should turn around.”

Alone with nothing but my thoughts for company, I walked to the store. As I walked by people I didn’t know whether they noticed me and it didn’t matter. For at this moment I appeared just as sighted as anyone else. That is if you ignored my superheroine move when stepping off curbs.

When you lack depth perception it can be tricky navigating uneven terrain. Your footing is unsure so curbs, stairs, cobblestones, etc. can make walking a little dicey. So what I would do is put out my right hand as if an invisible energy force would keep me from falling.

Once I reached the safety of the store I was so relieved because I’d done it by myself. After I bought my snacks and left the store it was just a couple of short blocks back to the office.

I did my little ‘step off the curb superheroine move’ then I heard it. A blaring car horn and someone shouting at me! How could I have missed it? The car nearly hit me and I didn’t see it coming. Shaky and on verge of tears I don’t know how I gathered myself but I made it back to the office.

Strength In A Simple Choice 

Acceptance of a major life-altering event like illness or disability can be extremely difficult. And even once the choice for acceptance is made it can still be a day-to-day struggle. However, I believe strength and freedom are found in acceptance.

I realized the day I was almost mowed down by that vehicle I had a choice. I could continue living in denial. Or I could pick up my white cane, embrace my sight loss and work to help others by sharing my story.

Today I not only use my white cane but I proudly wear my Abby gear! Below I describe today’s featured photo.

Vulnerability, Sight Loss & The White Cane Featured Image Description: 

A mirror selfie of my black “Relax It’s Only A Cane!” tee. I’m wearing new hair, a pixie cut wig, blond in the front, dark brown in the back. Wished I could have taken a full body photo but my phone doesn’t take pictures on voice command.

The white Abby icon is above the slogan walking with her white cane in one hand, handbag in the other. She is wearing heels and a stylish dress made of panels resembling overlapping banana leaves. The dress panels gently curve from her nipped in waist to just above the knee. Her signature hairstyle is best described as explosive.

 

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Styling A Customized White Cane

Styling gold cane and mustard shoe

Styling A Customized White Cane

Happiness Is…

When your cane and shoes match!

Image 1
Image 1

It really was a happy coincidence since I recently had one of those ‘what in the heck am I gonna wear today?’ days. In the featured photo, we see my shoe-clad foot and matching gold cane (description is below).

When I ordered my new customized ‘white canes’ I volleyed back and forth unsure of the colors I wanted. However, as I got ready for a meeting I knew the gold cane would work with my outfit choice. The problem was I hated my outfit. I walked around the house in said outfit until just before my paratransit arrived—then I did the unthinkable. I tore off my clothes, snatched a dress off the hanger, then pulled out these cute little flats I’d forgotten about.

My ride came to collect me and when he dropped me at my destination he commented on how nice my shoes looked with my cane. I’m like, “oh, why thank you!” Since I have a style reputation to uphold, I wasn’t about to tell him I didn’t know they matched. But secretly I was so delighted.

Color Coordinated Outfit Contrasting Cane

The other day I was in yet another ‘what cane should I use quandary?’ I was so tempted to use the black one because it is my favorite but reasoned that I needed contrast. Since my outfit was mainly black (with blush—muted pink—accents) I felt the gold cane would be a better choice.

In image 1, I’m sitting on a bench at the mall wearing a black tee, very comfy lightweight black pants, blush colored light knit open sweater and blush fringed flat slides. My gold cane is in my right hand. For jewelry, I’m wearing a long silver toned fringed necklace and a sparkly bracelet which I’ll talk about in a separate post.

Since I’ve always enjoyed expressing my personal style I decided to extend this logic to my cane as well. I wrote an article, Cane EnAbled—Puttin’ On The Glitz, a while back that talks a little more extensively on this topic.

Aside from flexibility in customization, I also like the folding Ambutech Slim Line canes because they are so compact. They are very light and portable although they are not as sturdy as a standard mobility cane. In view of this, I like the idea of having several back-ups just in case one should bend or break. 

What are your thoughts on customizable mobility devices?

Image 2
Image 2

Styling A Customized White Cane Featured Image Description:

The photo shows me styling my gold cane and mustard faux suede pointy slingback flat on the asphalt outside of my home. These colors coordinated nicely with my gray sleeveless A-line dress. ‏ ‏

Image 2:

A photo of my two new (black and gold) Ambutech Slim Line canes next to my older mobility cane. All three canes have five sections. The older cane has a green grip, 3 white segments, and 1 gold segment near the tip.