Sunday, November 04, 2007

White cane-ing it

This is my white cane. Most people I know don't know that have a white cane, most people have never seen me using it. That is generally because I don't really like using it and most of the time I don't need it (although some would say I should use it anyway as its a signal cane - ie I'm telling people I can't see... therefore they may be less likely to drive into me or something) However, I have started using it more reguarly recently - partly coz I realised that actually when my eyes are sore I can see very little and it probably is much safer for me to use the cane at these times. Using a cane can be quite hilarious - the way people respond to you is so different. Sometimes people just ignore it, for example I was using it in rush hour in London yesterday and I get pushed out the way pretty much as much as when I not using it (commuters ,ya gotta love 'em!) Sometimes (and this is probably my favourite reaction) people become uber-helpful in a nice way. I was in lost in Eastbourne a few weeks ago and stopped an old couple to ask for directions, which they helpfully gave. The old man then asked if I needed help crossing the road - very sweet but I'm sure it should be role reversal! And then there's the reaction I like least - people who think they are being helpful but are actually just being stupidly patronising. Thankfully I have no very recently examples of this - but there are oh so many examples in the past. They often involve people not talking to me, but talking to the person who is with me about me (eg 'Does she need any help?'), as if I am deaf and stupid as well as being blind (sight impaired) - seriously!! Does disability = stupid person?? I don't think so! I have a physics degree!! One of the reasons I don't like using my cane is that I know people will look at me and have preconceptions about me. The trouble with sight impairment is that it is in no way black and white (unless you're colourblind - haha!) It's not just like either you can see or you can't, there is a huge range that different people with sight impairment can see and so a huge range of ways we need to be helped. (I find it very difficult to describe what I can see, for as long as I remember I have been able to see like this - I don't really have anything to compare it to - what can you see?) It frustrates me a lot when people who I don't know just assume wrongly they know what I need, for example an aiport attendent at Stansted a few months ago made me sit in a wheelchair.. (obviously all disabilities are the same and the solution = wheelchair!) Sometimes I even pander to them and pretend I can see less than I can just to keep them happy. Why don't people just ask? I like it when people ask in a non patronising way if they can help, often I will politely refuse, but sometimes (usually when I'm trying to work out trains and they are seriously frustrating me...) it seems like a God send to have someone ask me that. Navagating your way around a new place when you can't read signs can be ridiculously frustrating, and having someone kindly ask if they can help is brilliant. I think everyone should be made to use a cane for a day... then people may have more of an idea how to be helpful without being patronising!!

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