White Cane Awareness Chat With Melody Goodspeed Podcast Episode 9

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Beauty Buzz/Blog Biz | White Cane Awareness Chat With Melody Goodspeed

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Editor’s Note

In recognition of White Cane Awareness Day on October 15th, our discussion revolves around attitudes about the white cane and how we can more fully embrace it as a tool of independence. Midway through the show Marta DiVito, Bold Blind Beauty’s Intern has a special announcement. Then towards the end of the segment, we have a challenge for everyone. Enjoy!

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Welcome

Steph

Welcome back to another episode of Bold Blind Beauty On A.I.R. Bold Blind Beauty On A.I.R. is clearing the air for more A.I.R. (accessibility, inclusion, and representation). I’m Stephanae McCoy.

Nasreen

I’m Nasreen Bhutta.

Sylvia

And I’m Sylvia Stinson-Perez

Steph

And we’re your co-hosts. 

In recognition of White Cane Awareness Day on October 15th, this special edition of Bold Blind Beauty On A.I.R. will focus on topics related to the white cane. Then midway through the show is a special message from intern Marta DiVito and we will also have a challenge for everyone at the end of the episode. Enjoy! 

Today’s guest is Melody Goodspeed, the Major Gift Specialist at the American Foundation for the Blind. She’s also the voice of Bold Blind Beauty’s brand icon Abby and my good friend. Welcome, Melody. We are so excited to talk with you this afternoon.

Melody Goodspeed

I am so excited to be here with you. This is so fun.

Melody Goodspeed’s Sight Loss Journey

Melody Goodspeed is posing in a CABI Jacket. The Citizen Jacket looks like it is the Pantone color Saffron (a gold color). The jacket has big pockets at the waist and what looks like big brass buttons.
Melody Goodspeed

Steph

This is one of my favorite topics today. So before we get started, though, can you share with us your sight loss journey?

Melody

Sure, because you’re such an advocate for me in this part, but what happened was in you know, 2003, I was a teacher. And I started to experience really bad headaches. I thought, well, maybe it’s just I got a bit of a tough class this year, you know, stress and that kind of thing. And they just kept getting worse. And you know, long story short, several emergency room visits and nothing and nothing. 

And then I found out that I had a blood clot actually in my brain. And within a week after diagnosis, the result of that was total blindness for me with the pressure that was being placed on my optic nerve due to a thing called cerebral pseudotumor. I feel like I’m kind of Hopkins thing right now. 

But it was really you know, it was a really tough time it came on so suddenly and so out of left field, I’ve never had, you know, any type of it wasn’t in my peripheral like no pun intended like blindness wasn’t a thing. No one had ever heard of any diseases from it. I knew about cataracts, but that’s about it. 

So needless to say I was very sick for a while, took a year to be in total truth of just getting back. And I wasn’t really able at that time to focus on what had really happened with blindness because I just truly was trying to not feel so terrible. And finally, one day I just kind of said, I have a choice I have now got to deal with, you know, with with the blind part. And it’s been a struggle. And it has been a road that has been very fruitful at times and also very painful at times.

I went to rehabilitation was working in a field that I thought was okay, I mean, it was fine. I learned a lot in it for 10 years, over 10 years, actually afterward. And I thought okay, well I’m gainfully employed as a blind individual, because that’s such a hard thing, right? In our community is finding gainful employment. But there was something in me that wanted more. And I found AFB (American Foundation for the Blind) through a friend of when I was working at the National Industries of the Blind, I had met Kirk Adams and I started at AFB and I’ve been here for three years. 

But I do want to go back and tell you that that’s not my first experience with AFB. My first experience was when I did make that decision to learn how to live as a blind person and to heal (because you really do need to heal, I want to make that very clear). Um, just giving yourself that space to do so is my boyfriend, now husband at now with a boyfriend at the time said there’s this place called the American Foundation for the Blind and they have a Career Connect Program. And so I went signed up for that and ended up talking to really blind successful people. And it was the first glimmer of hope that I had had that this was going to be okay. So that is a very abridged version. I hope that was good.

Steph

Yes, it was. And it’s interesting because I think most of the people that I’ve talked to that have experienced, well, we all experience it differently. However, one of the things that seem to be a common theme is you know, getting to know other blind people or blind organizations to sort of helping us through that process.

Melody

Right, resources are so important. And I think it’s also very important I mean for me, I was checking the box, right? It’s like okay, go to rehab, check. Do this, check. Go to this, check. Someone tells me this is what I’ve got to do now for my life, okay, check. And we forget the human element, right? We forget the parts that make us the people that we are. 

And one day I happened to be sitting at an ACB Conference. The first one I ever been to, and the best thing I ever heard and still talk to people about when they’re going through this healing process, is if you’re new to blindness, it’s: “If you were a happy person when you could see you’re going to be a happy blind person, a person, that’s blind. If you were a cranky person, you’re going to be a cranky person that’s blind.” You know, it’s [inaudible] and it’s so true. 

Like we that, for me, what led up was, I’m still the same person, I just can’t see with visual aids. So and then the adapt adaptations, but I think it’s we you know, it’s not a check the box thing, I mean, yes, there are things you got to do. But you also have to pace yourself and go into your own healing pace. And I think that’s so important.

Sylvia

That’s so true Melody and it is a process. Especially for those who experienced that, that either quick vision loss or even that gradual vision loss, it’s a different challenge, but it’s a challenge. 

And so one of the symbols of blindness is the white cane, or even the guide dog. And oftentimes, those just really scare people, freak them out. And there’s a hesitancy on the part of many people who are visually impaired to even use a cane. And oftentimes, the public and even people with visual impairments think the white cane or the guide dog is only for that person who sees absolutely nothing. But people all along the spectrum of vision loss may need a mobility tool, which could be a cane or a guide dog. 

How Long Have You’ve Been Using The White Cane

A photo of a golden lab guide dog sitting in its harness.

Sylvia

So how long have each of you been using your cane? Or a guide dog? Melody? What about you?

Melody

So I have both. I have my guide dog right now is Daisy, she’s turning 11 in December. And then also my cane. 

And I gotta tell you, you know, I remember when I was first handed the cane; you talk about that hesitancy. I can’t tell you the mix of emotions, anger, sadness, frustration. 

True story, I was with the mobility instructor walking down the street, and I was so mad like, I can feel my body tensing. And I hated that thing, because I’m a really fast walker, but I couldn’t be. And I also love stilettos and I still can’t master those bad boys either now because of the balance, and you know how to get the extra leverage for being a short person. 

So I remember being so angry, and I don’t know what came over me but I just screamed so loud, and I threw the cane like a joust and I just threw it. And I just got down on the ground (because we were, you know, in a safe spot to do that), I threw it into a field. And I just sat there and cried and cried and cried, and then when we were done, she goes: “Well, I’m gonna have to sighted guide you back to the car.” I’m like, well we gotta get the cane. She’s like, “you threw it over a fence into a cow pasture, I can’t get it.”

Sylvia

That’s awesome. That’s awesome. And I know so many people want to throw theirs away.

I will tell you that I had a gradual vision loss and I was so hesitant about using that cane because that was a symbol that I was blind. It wasn’t a secret to anyone else but me evidently. And one day, literally a colleague of mine, (and I worked in the vision rehabilitation field as a social worker that’s the funny thing). And a mobility instructor literally said, “Hey, you can choose to look blind or drunk, your choice.” 

And it took me a long time even after that, to embrace that cane full time. You know, I would start using it at work, because you know, everyone there was blind and you fit right in, I fit in. And then gradually, I would use it in really unfamiliar areas because I wanted to not fall down or run into people. And then to use it with my family and my friends and at church, Oh, it was traumatizing. And what was amazing to me is that once I did everyone was I think they all took a sigh of relief because now I could truly be independent.

Melody

I love that story. But to add to that, I also have had the opposite effect where I’ve been out in when I decided to use the cane with my friends. I’ve had a situation where “you can just leave it you’ve got me” and I think a lot of people get that too. And my response now is you know, yeah, I’ve got you but I got this too and this is how I roll.

Sylvia

And you know, if someone says that they might walk away because I, I’ve done that where I’ve gone well, I’ve got them. Or they’ve said that you know, people have said that. And then something happens usually it’s in a retail situation (Melody, and I love retail situations) where people will walk off from you. And there you are, you’re like, now I’m kind of stranded here looking at these particular things. So Nasreen, what about you and using the cane?

Nasreen

That’s the beauty of this conversation because I think we’re all at different spectrums when it comes to cane use and cane thoughts and the logic behind the cane. And I just love the statement that Melody just finished making about having control with the cane. 

And at this present time, I am not using a cane and that’s not because I don’t want to or I think I’m better than a cane. It’s just that what you mentioned, Sylvia, about the mindset, the traumatization, you know, the acceptance of it. That is still something that I’m grappling with. 

I’ve been somebody who has RP and gradually like you have had vision change, I haven’t completely lost my vision. And so here, I think I’m still a hero with my Wonder Woman suit on going around. I’m okay, I’m great in the house but when it goes out to the big bad world, that’s where I’m a little cautious. And so I do, I do have somebody with me, my family is protective. My daughter, my nieces, and nephews are protective, but you know, down the road, they may not be around. And so it’s something that I need to consider to do.

Coming from a cultural background as well, too, because I think culture plays a big piece in the equation here too. Absolutely. Like, Oh, poor pity. And it’s just like a bad stigma. So, therefore, culturally, it’s not an accepted thing. They prefer you culturally too, let’s say, use the help of others, or just try to ride it out. Then that’s a bad statement to say.

But where we are situated, you know, there’s a lot of tools, aids, TVI (Teacher of the Visually Impaired), O&M (Orientation & Mobility) instructors, and things like that, that can be utilized. But again, it goes down to the mindset. 

So one of my stories that I’m going to share is last year when we all met up, actually in New Jersey. And I met each and every one of you and I noticed (because I still have some vision) that each of you was doing different things with your canes. Steph, I liked her cane the most, because it was lightweight and it had this cool little rollerball at the end of it. And she used it and I was just watching that amazed. But then I saw Melody and I think you had a pink cane. I think

Melody

Pink, pink and purple. 

Nasreen

Yeah. And I thought that’s so cool when you took that out. You’re walking down to the elevator with it that night when we all went to dinner, and I thought that was cool. Can you do that to cane?

And then Sylvia, I met you at the event too at the table briefly at the art exhibit table. And I didn’t notice your cane because I noticed you because you’re a beautiful woman and your porcelain skin and I thought wow. And I thought and I didn’t think anything about your cane at the time or even if you had a guide dog but I was just looking at you. Because I thought wow, you know, here’s a professional all dolled up, who’s visually impaired.

Nasreen  13:13

And I felt in that room like amongst all of you, I felt the same. And that’s something that sometimes I don’t get in my own environment where I am because it’s not the norm to have a guide dog or a cane. And being around Melody’s guide dog, Daisy, who’s so sweet was also new to me. I never experienced that either. 

And then also when we were all walking down to the convention hall the second day from the hotel, with Kirk and the whole team, and watching everybody use your canes and tap. I think it was David who tapped the light of the light pole. I was just amazed at how did he know that light pole that I saw out of the corner of my eye. But like how did he know that was there and he tapped it, light pole. And I thought wow.

So it was like, I was amazed to see you all functioning differently with your cane. But yet all together in unison, you all knew what you’re doing. And using different canes, different types of canes, different lengths of canes as Kirk’s cane was very tall because he’s a very tall individual. And I think it was an educational experience. And I’ve been very open and raw here because you all enlightened me. You inspired me and you opened my eyes to what this whole tool aid and idea is about.

Sylvia

I think you represent the majority, actually. You do, because I mean I was in your place. Listen, the only reason I started using the cane was so I didn’t look drunk, let’s admit it. And then I only started using it more and more and more because Hello, I couldn’t see and I think that’s what happens to most people. So I admire that you’re authentic here and that you also admit, just like all of us you’re on a journey and it is a journey to use that cane. It’s a journey. So Steph, what about you?

Steph

I’ve been using my cane for about 10 years. I was very hesitant to use it as a matter of fact, when I met with my rehab counselor, and he was doing like the intake he met me at my office. I wasn’t sure what to expect but I wasn’t expecting him to mention a white cane I don’t know why but I just wasn’t expecting that. It was one of the first things he sort of opened with. And I’m like well, you know why are you asking me about the white cane it’s you know, I still have you know, some usable vision here. 

And he explained to me that you know, blindness was a spectrum, (which I sort of kind of knew given my personal situation). But at that time, I still hadn’t interacted with other blind individuals. However my fear was if I was to go with the white cane was that I would be putting a target on my back.

I felt like you know, I’m already female, you know, I can’t see very well and now you’re asking me to use this white cane to sort of letting everybody know that I can’t see. And I just, I wanted no parts of it. I just didn’t. 

I was fearful, I was fearful of my sight loss. I was fearful of what was to come and not understanding how much more I was going to lose just everything scared me. So I just wasn’t there. However, I did go through orientation and mobility training, and then I promptly put my cane in my closet where it sat for about a year I think about a year or so.

Ambassadors Wanted

An artsy Bold Leaders Illuminating New Directions image with the word "BLIND" at the top and the words from the acronym are centered in a list underneath. These words are in a graphic box with lines and dots and at the very top are small words that say "Estd. 2021"

Marta DiVito 

Hi, everyone, this is Marta DiVito Bold Blind Beauty’s intern. Bold Blind Beauty is looking for Ambassadors. If you are a Bold Leader Illuminating New Directions then we want you! Check out the Ambassador’s Wanted Page, the link is in the show notes. Send us your video no more than one and a half minutes long. Tell us why you would be an amazing Ambassador. The search begins on October 4. Good luck to all!!

Melody

Mine sat there for three years. I even named mine so it sounded nice. I named it Nancy and talked to it like it’s my friend. I still have ups and downs with it.

Steph 

You know, after I met other people who were cane users, and I found that they named their canes. I thought then I thought that’s a great idea, I’m going to do that. Do you know 10 years later, I still haven’t found a name for my cane?

Help Us Name Our Canes

Replica of the header image of Steph's gold slimline cane and matching slingback shoe.

Sylvia

I don’t either. Maybe we need to ask our audience to help us name our canes.

Melody

Now I want to rename my Bubblegum since it’s pink and purple.

Sylvia

That’s so fun, I love that! Our audience members definitely have to make suggestions on awesome cane names for us. That would be so fun. I definitely know I want to get a purple one. I’ve totally got to make that happen. 

Funny White Cane Stories

On the left is a photo of a standard white cane with a roller ball on its tip and on the right is a fishing pole on the beach overlooking water.

Sylvia 

But speaking of that, canes are kind of interesting for the rest of the world. For us, they’re like oh my god, it’s a tool but it can be a challenge. But for the rest of the world, it could be all sorts of things. I will share a funny story is that I have some friends who were shopping in one of those big box stores and they came up to the cash register [inaudible] they put their items on the thing and they’re having they’re standing there with their cane and the cashier said: “are you gonna put your fishing pole up here so I can ring it up?” 

Now, I’ve gone fishing a couple of times in my life when I’ve held a fishing pole. I actually am not allowed to fish because the one time I did I swung it back and put the thing right in my brother’s head. But I’m pretty sure a fishing pole and a cane really don’t look the same. So maybe that person needed some glasses. I don’t know. But do you have any fun stories? I know you do Melody.

Melody

Oh, I do. Steph, do you want to go first?

Steph 

I don’t have a funny story, anything that comes to mind. But I do have a memorable one. It was one that was really appealing to me because I love opportunities where I can educate people. 

So, I was in the grocery store and as Nasreen said, I have a couple of canes with a big ball on the end and a rolling ball. When you use that type of cane it’s called Constant Contact because the cane never leaves the ground. 

This woman, this cute, older lady came up to me and she said, “excuse me, but may I ask you what is that on the end of your cane?” And I said sure, and we got into this conversation about my white cane. 

And she was telling me how she wished that her mother had known about these types of canes and even the organizations and things that I was affiliated with at that time when her mom began losing her sight. Because she said, all she did was more or less like close herself off, she wouldn’t even leave the house. And it was just such a sad sort of state of affairs.

Well we all know people who you know when they lose their sight later in life, they feel like there’s nothing left to live for. And thankfully, we all know people who are the opposite of that. Four of them are on this podcast, who not only continue to live but we also continue to thrive. 

And this was an opportunity for me to present to this woman that yes, even though I did lose my sight, and it wasn’t fun, it was you know, the experience was rather sad sometimes. I was able to learn how to adapt using tools and resources that were available to me so that I can continue working, I could learn new ways of doing things like putting on my makeup, and just navigating the world in a different kind of way. So for me, that was a great experience because I love having those sorts of exchanges with people where it can help them to learn that blindness isn’t the defining factor of who we are as people.

Melody

That is so incredibly true. You know I have a rollerball on the end of my cane too because I like to have constant contact it’s securing for me. The reason is for me is I remember one time I was walking and this mobility instructor was telling me about how you know they had an incident where someone wasn’t using their cane correctly and fell in a manhole cover that was opened and wasn’t so that [inaudible] I was like I never want my cane to leave the ground.

But I have a four-year-old daughter and the other day I was walking and my rollerball the lip of the sidewalk was up and it did something. Anyway, the ball rolled away she’s like “mommy your ball, your tennis ball at the end of your stick fell off and I gotta go get it.”

Sylvia 

It could only happen to you, Melody.

Melody

[Inaudible] I was in mobility and I was it was me and these two other guys that lost their eyesight. And the three of us are walking into Target and we were singing Three Blind Mice as we were getting into the door because we all hated this, right? And I was so embarrassed and I somehow picked my cane up and got it stuck in a cart couldn’t get it out.

I mean I’ve done I’ve been here trying to get my little daughter who’s shoe-obsessed like her mother. Yes, everyone out we’re blind women but I can tell you all four of us here are fashionistas and are my retail therapy partners as well. But I was in there and my sister my friend and I popped my cane up because we’re in the shoe store and we all know how like shoe rack can just get crazy. And this girl was like “oh my gosh I have to have those shoes, mommy I have to have those shoes.” Like screaming like the glass could have shattered like oh my gosh my friend’s with me.

I’m like I pray to God that they have her size and I’m all engrossed in this. And the next thing I noticed “excuse me can I use this to go get this shirt?” And I’m like, what? Like I guess [inaudible].

And that’s not the first time. My sister and I when I first started using the cane, same thing I had it up in the air because you’re going through racks that were so like I want to hit myself in the face. So I grabbed her arm and like yeah, this woman’s [inaudible] she’s like “when you’re done with that I want to get this shirt up there.” Why twice.

Sylvia 

Bring your own shopping pole you just bring your own shopping pole. It can come in very handy. I’ve had to use mine under my bed under the stove to find things.

Melody

Yes, yes it does. 

Nasreen

I have a friend out in Louisiana she’s an older woman and she takes hers to Walmart. And she has accidentally or deliberately however you want to call it kind of used her cane to you know people were pushing or shoving her or doing you know just cutting her off or whatever. And actually stuck it out there and they get there, they’ve gone flying and tripped. [Inaudible]

Sylvia

Oh, the paths will clear before you. When you use a cane, the paths will clear.

Melody

Yes, it will, it’s like parting the red sea of people. Especially in airports and a guide dog man Daisy can rock the airport it’s I love it awesome.

Glitzing Up The White Cane

A closeup photo of black Swarovski crystal beads.

Sylvia

So what can we, I mean we talked a little bit about different colored canes. Has anyone done anything to totally glitz up their cane and you know make it just really fun? And I know so I go back to when I used to work with teenagers I would that’s when I started using a pink cane and doing some of that glitzy stuff. Because and Nasreen this might help you feel a little more confident about using one accessory it’s a chance but you can make it’s an accessory as well. 

Melody

Yeah, and you know Nasreen like I have to say I still battle in my head because I think for me it is an acceptance piece. And even 18 years later but it’s also is a symbolism that I that really quite frankly the world worldview of it has placed on me growing up. Like it’s you know there are limitations when it comes like I saw all the negativity when I see the cane. 

And I think when you flip the script and I just want to add this really quick is you know going back to Steph’s point of people staying indoors. You know people think that blind people are such a small population there are over 32.5 million people living in the United States alone that are blind. But people don’t see us out because of these issues. And I really feel that if we all came together and supported one another to get out and be involved in the conversation we could flip that script we are who we are in society [inaudible].

Sylvia

We are not less and I always say we are more courageous because it takes a lot of courage to go out there and walk with that cane or walk with that guide dog. And it’s not about using the tool it’s about just walking like a person who’s blind in this crazy world and you know the sidewalks are not flat. So I think you’re right and then so often is that we are we get to be that representative we get to be that that awareness that helps people understand Hey, we are just people who can’t see. We’re courageous we’re who we are.

Steph

Right, and to your point Sylvia that’s an excellent point you made one of the reasons why I chose the name Bold Blind Beauty is because we are bold. Those of us who have lost our sight or you know who was even born blind and yet we’re out here living our lives, it takes a certain amount of courage. A certain amount takes courage a lot. Yeah, it takes a lot of courage and to put beauty and blindness together in the same sentence was intentional because I want people to think that beauty is not just for people who can see there are many, many different ways to experience the beauty and even in blindness, we can experience that beauty.

So Bold Blind Beauty addresses those things that we’re talking about here today and even with the white cane, one of the things and I did that helped me to accept it was the fact that I can personalize it and I can make it mine. I felt I had no control over my sight loss. There was nothing I could do about that for sure but I could control how I reacted to it. And that meant I could take this cane and make it a beautiful symbol that represented me and my personal style. I haven’t glitz it out the way I want to 

Melody

Oh, I’m glitzing.

Steph

I want to have it blinged out but I have used cane charms. I’ve used you know the different colors but I wanted to be sparkly. I love sparkles.

Melody

I do too. I really want sparkles. We will have to share tips.

Sylvia

We have to make it happen we all have to make it happen we need. World, we need four sparkly canes.

Melody

And I want different color canes so they match my outfits. 

Sylvia

Me too. We need canes and masks that match. Yeah. 

Our Challenge To You

An attractive black woman with long black wavy hair is pointing her left finger at the camera.

Sylvia

So my challenge to everyone who is visually impaired, is that with White Cane Awareness Day on October 15, get out there and use that cane with confidence and take that as an opportunity to educate the world. And for those who aren’t visually impaired, it’s that really learn about what a difference it makes for people and their lives.

Melody

And I also challenge you to get a very cool pair of sunglasses to match your cane because eye safety’s important. 

Nasreen 

Oh, it’s been, fun ladies. And this has been a great conversation with some lovely ladies and how to kind of bling out the cane and think more about your cane not only being a tool, but a total fashion accessory, and how it defines you as a person. 

Ask your friends to subscribe and follow us and join us on our next podcast here at Bold Blind Beauty On A.I.R. Thank you

Transcribed by https://otter.ai

Connecting With Melody

Connecting With Bold Blind Beauty

Image Descriptions

  • The header photo is of Steph’s gold slimline cane and a matching slingback shoe.
  • Melody Goodspeed is posing in a CABI Jacket. The Citizen Jacket looks like it is the Pantone color Saffron (a gold color). The jacket has big pockets at the waist and what looks like big brass buttons.
  • A photo of a golden lab guide dog sitting in its harness.
  • An artsy Bold Leaders Illuminating New Directions image with the word “BLIND” at the top and the words from the acronym are centered in a list underneath. These words are in a graphic box with lines and dots and at the very top are small words that say “Estd. 2021”
  • Replica of the header image of Steph’s gold slimline cane and matching slingback shoe.
  • On the left is a photo of a standard white cane with a roller ball on its tip and on the right is a fishing pole on the beach overlooking water.
  • A closeup photo of black Swarovski crystal beads.
  • An attractive black woman with long black wavy hair is pointing her left finger at the camera.
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