Nope, my intention is not to bore you out of your mind by talking about white cane again. I write this because so many people still hesitate to grab the white cane and discover the feeling of liberation. No gradual vision loss patient knows that white cane has the magic to put the swagger back on your steps: Go grab your white cane, and it ain’t a shame.
Perhaps the biggest problem a person losing vision gradually faces is the constant question “what do they all think?”
The simple answer they would come to understand as they reconcile with their vision condition is…”it doesn’t matter what everyone else thinks.”
Because it’s not “they” who live your life, or face the kind of challenges you face, or struggle to get back on your own two feet when good vision diminishes slowly into a foggy obscurity. And it’s not “they” who would realise for the first time that you need to endure something you never imagined you’d face in a million years.
Psychologically, most of gradual vision loss patients think grabbing the white cane is self-advertisement of their disability. This can’t be more wrong. Because your disability becomes obvious to people around you the moment your vision begins to reduce beyond the legal levels of clarity. At that stage, a shadow would seem like an object you want to circumvent without collision. And, invariably, those displaying false bravado or live in the illusion that their vision is still clear would crash into tables, chairs and virtually anything in their way.
At that stage, patients need a good idea of their space and what occupies them. It could be a room with furniture or a sidewalk that is bumpy and uneven (as is the case in many Indian cities).
But the patients think that the white cane shrinks their personality and their confidence. They build an unsavoury picture that the cane is their enemy because it shows them as inferior before an able-bodied person.
This anxiety is not without substance, as wherever they go, people treat them as different from themselves. If they work in an office, for instance, they are either left alone (especially when they don’t have a disabled companion or a colleague) or excluded as a group of persons with disability since the able-bodied persons have no idea how to include them or think it’s best to leave the persons with disability alone.
I heard that one of the BPOs that recruited blind people excluded them from social activities like going together with lunch or participating in external activities. It took a very long time for them to realise that a person with disability, like anyone else, would like to be included in regular group activities -both official and non-official— because disability doesn’t make them lesser humans and they are still social animals.
While awareness about inclusion is important, it’s equally vital to build the confidence of the blind and the gradual vision loss patients and break the taboo over the white cane.
In the end, it’s in the best interest of the patients –such as those with retinitis Pigmentosa or advanced levels of Macular Degeneration– to grab the white cane. It isn’t the source of shame, but a pole to guide you through difficult physical and psychological terrains.
There’re several organisations across India who offer the Orientation and Mobility programme for the blind, imparting not only cane-based navigation techniques, but also ways of organising their personal space to lead an independent life. National Association for the Blind-Karnataka has the best facilities to teach O&M.
Let’s join hands to promote use of white cane. Let’s make gradual vision loss patients confident and independent, and aware of the space around them.