I was born visually impaired. I do have some useful residual vision, although it can be temperamental! On good days, I can make out details like faces or street signs a couple of metres away. However, if the sun is bright, or I’m tired or stressed, my bubble of useful vision shrinks down to nothing, and my world is a blur of colours and fuzzy shapes.
Even as a person with sight loss, I always thought white canes were only for totally blind people. Thinking back, I recognise how many coping mechanisms I had developed to compensate for the absence of a mobility aid like a white cane. From my slow penguin shuffle walk, to my tippy toe taps to feel my way down the stairs, I was constantly trying to adapt to the absence of something I really needed.
As my vision deteriorated I struggled to maintain my independence. My coping mechanisms weren’t working anymore, I lost confidence and avoided going out on my own, through fear of falling or bumping into people. Eventually I thought that a white cane might help.
It was a big decision to become a cane user and it was overwhelming sometimes. There was a lot to learn! From how to hold it properly, to the width of the arc, the rhythm and pace I had to adopt, and learn how to interpret the information through the vibrations and sounds. Luckily, I had lots of support from a fantastic orientation and mobility specialist who equipped me with all the tips and tricks of the trade.
I use a slightly old fashioned chunky long white cane. It’s a bit like the slightly rubbish first car you learned to drive in – you know there are shinier faster models, but you are comfortable with your old reliable banger.
I want to show a bit of my personality through my cane, and this was also an important part of accepting it so I began accessorising it. It has made a huge difference to my confidence and independence, but it does mean I’m sometimes treated differently. It’s important that my cane feels like part of me and reflects who I am.
I stumbled across the idea to personalise my cane during training. The long cane is held out in front of the middle of your body and swept from side to side. However, my arm kept drifting and I was missing information on my left side. I came up with the idea of attaching a pom-pom to my cane elastic handle. If my cane drifted too much to one side, the pom-pom started bouncing off my leg and I knew to correct myself.
Soon I’d perfected my cane sweep, but everyone loved the pom-pom so much I kept it. Now I have a whole collection of cane accessories! My cane also has its own stripy pink carry case, made by a friend. I currently have bright pink hair so I’m trying to co-ordinate my cane accessories to match.
This has given my cane a bit of character, while still being the obvious symbol of blind and partially sighted people who use coloured canes, and I quite fancy a coloured handle. However, I work in central London and regularly travel through busy crowds. I need people to notice my cane and understand quickly what it means.
So, I think I’ll stick to the classic white for now, but don’t worry, I’ll always jazz it up with a glamorous pink pom-pom or two!