I hope you have enjoyed ‘The Cane and I’ series so far. In Part 3, we look at the first few cane lessons. It’s just the start, but if you’ve read the first two parts of this series, Blind People Faking It’: The Truth and Mentally Preparing for Cane Training, you will know it’s been a journey just to get here!
So it begins! My first cane lesson. Well, actually, it didn’t really begin. I didn’t realise it then, but it would be two weeks before I got anywhere near a cane! When I first met my Rehabilitation Officer, Lucy, she came to my house and we chatted for almost an hour. She was clearly conducting an assessment, but she had a way of making it feel like it was just a chat. We covered a lot of ground, we talked not only about mobility and getting out and about, but we also talked about how I was managing around the house and things I wanted to do but was struggling to find a way to do them alone. She listened kindly and was chatty enough, but not too chatty. She was confident in her answers to my questions and was honest and said she would look into my questions that she didn’t have answers for. Sure enough I got an email from her a few hours later with the information I had asked for. When she left, we agreed on a date for our next session and that was it. It was almost like nothing had happened. But it had. The outcome of the session was that I thought to myself, if this is the person who is going to teach me to use a cane, I’m happy with that. A visually impaired person places a huge amount of trust in a rehab officer and I have since come to realise a good rapport and a mutual respect are key to the process running smoothly for both parties. No cane in sight, but a pretty good outcome for lesson 1.
The following week Lucy and I went for a walk to a nearby park, then carried on to the local post office. Along the way she was assessing what I could see, feel and hear and where I needed help. She asked me about colours, distances, textures, sounds and by the time she left, I think she had a pretty good idea of the level of vision I have. It’s difficult to describe to someone what you see if you are visually impaired as it varies so much on different days, in different conditions. I appreciated how thorough she was and felt it was a good sign for future lessons. Still no cane, but again, I felt quite positive.
This brings us to week 3, where it really began. In a quiet spot with a straight path ahead of us, Lucy placed the cane in my hand. And you know what? It didn’t feel as weird as I had expected. I didn’t feel nervous, reluctant, hesitant or any of the those of other things I had felt in the months leading up to this moment. As I tentatively took a few steps forward, carefully sweeping the cane for the first time, I was excited and eager to learn. Lucy showed me basic techniques, holding the cane, how far move it from side to side and how to walk with it. I walked up and down the same 20 metre path over and over again, practicing all the things she was telling me. After a while a strange thing happened. I stood up straight. I held my head high. It had been a long time since I had been able to do this. Not seeing very well means I stoop in an attempt to see the path I am walking on. I had been walking around, hunched over for years. I didn’t think about it, because when I did, it upset me a bit. I wished I could stand tall, with poise and confidence. I always felt that having bad posture could give a negative impression of a person and that wasn’t how I wanted to present myself. But I didn’t have the choice. For that moment, on this small, quiet path, holding a cane, I didn’t need to look down. I could hold my head up and that meant the world to me.
My lack of self consciousness surprised me. As did the feeling of empowerment that came with using the cane. Perhaps when I ‘graduate’ from cane school and meet someone I know for the first time when using my cane, I will feel uncomfortable or embarrassed. I might worry about what that person is thinking when they see the cane. It must be inevitable to some degree, but maybe, as I get used to using the cane, the feeling of empowerment will grow and the feeling of self consciousness will be less pronounced. That’s what I hope anyway.
Cane training can take months. This is going to be a long slog, but now that it’s begun I can concentrate on the positives. By handing me a cane and showing me how to use it, Lucy is not only teaching me a skill to aid mobility, she is teaching me independence, confidence and showing me hope for the future. Coming to terms with sight loss often means focusing on things you can no longer do. Learning this skill reminds me what we are capable of- pretty much anything if we are willing to learn. It’s about readjusting our focus to concentrate on what we can achieve, not what we can’t.
I have always known that one day I will lose the little remaining vision I have but that doesn’t make facing up to it any easier. Even after just one hour with a cane, I can see the huge role it will play in that process. There are so many people who are visually impaired, who have degenerative conditions that ultimately cause complete blindness. Like many others, my story has demonstrated it can be an emotional journey just to get to the starting line when it comes to cane training. But if this resonates with you, keep trying to get there. Because when you do, it’s worth so much more than just learning to use a cane.
As a newbie blogger, ‘The Cane and I’ mini-series was a challenge. Writing it was easy. Hitting ‘publish’ was more complicated. No one wants to share moments of weakness or vulnerability, but I hoped that by sharing mine, others in a similar position might feel less alone. I also hoped it would reach people who have never been in a similar position and perhaps have never been around anyone with sight loss. If after reading this, just one such person sees a cane user and they pause to think about the journey that person might have been on, or to appreciate how much courage it might have taken for them to pick up a cane, simply so they can live their life on their own terms, like everybody else does, then I will know that publishing this was the right thing to do.