It may be White Cane Awareness Day, but these days more people are choosing to have a mobility cane that’s a different colour. Mobility canes are the long sticks blind and partially sighted people use to help them get around. To most it looks like the cane user is just searching the streets for gold as they sweep the pavement left and right, and many of you might think: ‘that’s amazing, but I have no idea how you do it’.
It’s more straight forward than you’d imagine. The idea is that the cane is used to identify obstructions and obstacles along your route, using the tip to find/hit them rather than parts of your body. You might assume the aim is to avoid hitting objects as much as you can, and whilst this is partly correct, the more complicated answer is ‘yes and no’. Yes, I don’t want to be walking into every street sign bench or bus stop, but no I don’t want to avoid everything all together. I use the cane to locate landmarks along a given route, such as the lamp post that has the wait box on it for the controlled road crossing. Hitting these obstacles is vital for me or anyone else using a cane to know where they are on their journey, so if you see someone heading directly towards a bus stop post or straight at the curb, they’re most likely intending to do so, and you needn’t worry about stopping them.
So why a different colour cane? Why not? We choose the colour and style of everything else we wear or use on a regular basis, so why not do the same with a cane? A lot of people ask: ‘but do people know what it’s for if it’s not a white cane?’ I couldn’t possibly know if every person that’s ever seen me using a blue or black cane has known what it’s for, but no one has ever asked me ‘what’s that stick for?’, if people ask me anything it’s: ‘why have you gone for a blue/black cane and not one of those white ones?’, and well, you know my answer to that!
In 2017 I was matched with my first guide dog, so I rarely use the cane when out and about these days. This has given me a whole host of different experiences to those I had as a cane user. For example, no one asks if they can stroke your cane (and, if they do I suggest politely declining and briskly walking away), but people seem to feel more comfortable around someone using a dog to help them rather than a cane. I don’t think people intend to act differently, and it’s certainly not to be malicious or rude, it’s generally down to a lack of awareness. After all, most people aren’t taught how best to communicate with a blind or partially sighted person, and if you’ve never encountered it in your lifetime you can’t be expected to know. I hope that reading this will help you understand a bit better, and I’ll finish by saying: Don’t be afraid to ask if someone needs help when they are using a cane, and if they say: no thanks’, don’t worry, it’s likely that they know where they are and where they’re going better than you do.
Alex Pepper. Follow Alex on Twitter!