3. Don’t feel shy about using your white cane.
On the sunny evening, the room where I stood looked shadowy. The lady standing before me watched the mortified expression on my face with a
mixture of amusement and apprehension.
She was shaking hands with me just a minute before, trying to
demonstrate how I should hold the handle of the white cane. “Just the way you shake hands. Just grip it. That’s all,” she said.
“Here, take this and hold the way I showed,” she told me, extending a brand new white cane. That was when the real horror of the situation hit me hard. I realised for the first time that my blinding condition would no longer be a secret. The moment I carried the white cane, I’d unwittingly advertise my blindness to every stranger and run the risk of being regarded with pity, the one thing every blind and visually impaired person loathes.
I shook my head vigorously and gave back the cane to the instructor. It was I who forced mom to take me to the YMCA to learn mobility with
white cane. But she was confused watching me give back the cane,
obviously not wanting to learn.
The instructor, Mrs. Sahai, wasn’t surprised at all. “He’ll come back
when he understands the need for white cane mobility,” Mrs. Sahai said, giving an affectionate pat on my shoulder as we exited the office room of CBM at YMCA in Chennai/Madras.
Sure enough, I did go back to learn mobility three years later,
because mobility was inevitable to everything I needed to do, right
from commuting on my own to handling myself at workplace. The first
thing every prospective employer asked me was: “Can you commute on your own?” Desperate to beat the odds and land the job, I wanted to say “yes”, but couldn’t do so with honesty.
I learnt the basic concepts of white cane use, but it wasn’t until
2004 I could hone my cane skills, when I visited the National
Association for the Blind-Karnataka. Having convinced my present management that I could work effectively as a journalist despite the obvious limitation, I first visited the sprawling campus of the NAB-K in Bengaluru. There, I was acclimatized with the techniques by the best in the business, the team led by Mr. Jaikumar and Ms. Shobha, ably assisted by Mr. Mohan Naik, Mr. Ramkrishna and Ms. Lalitha Kumari.
It was in the streets of Bengaluru that I first wielded the white cane and walked alone. The experience was liberating. I was the least bit embarrassed about advertising my blindness, but rather felt the air of freedom and confidence for the first time.
Such was the level of my confidence that I began long journeys all alone. I could fly at the time when flying was relatively a new concept for the blind and the airlines was posing additional barriers by refusing to board us. I continue to visit my hometown of Chennai all by myself in the relative safety of air-conditioned rail cars.
White cane mobility is the most emphatic message you can send to your family in terms of your independence. IT’s the best answer to the sceptics among your family and friends who’re not aware that there’re ways to breach the barriers blindness is posing.
Besides bolstering your confidence, walking with the white cane also allows you to find out ways of observing the immediate environment. You learn to process sounds and smells. Like a ballet dancer, you learn to coordinate your movement to the constant flow of traffic and pedestrians. The luxury of passing through the same roads, intersections and sidewalks would give you an intuitive understanding of the obstacles and ways to tackle them.
For those suffering gradual vision loss, white cane mobility is the first and the vital step to restore the lost confidence. It’ll help alleviate the initial trauma. You’d learn to tackle challenges blindness poses with less anxiety and with the assurance that you can crawl your way out of tight corners.