Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Why Does He Carry a White Cane Beside Him?

My youngest son often carries a white cane. I'm glad he can't see that sometimes people stare or turn their heads. I know I'm not supposed to be a mind-reader but my guess, as I watch them, is that they are wondering: Since he gets around so well, why does he carry a white cane?

You know why someone carries a white cane, right? Many people do. But you see, that's just it. A blind person uses a white cane to sweep back and forth in order to know what's in front of him or her. (Or that's our perception.) So why does this man carry it beside him

We tend to want to define everything and everyone. We tend to want to put things - and unfortunately, people, too - into boxes. This person is blind; this other person is sighted. This person is deaf; this other person can hear. This person needs a wheel chair; this other person does not. But real life is not that simple! 

My friend might need a wheelchair for long days out and about, but she doesn't need it for everywhere or for everything. I might not be able to hear you speaking beside me but I might hear you whisper behind me. My son might be able to lead the rest of the family around but...and that brings me back to the story at hand. 

As those who know my family know, my youngest son is "legally blind". Being legally blind doesn't mean he can't see anything or - as he sometimes says to me when I say something too obvious - "I'm not blind." But it does mean that he can't see quite as well as those of us who are fully sighted. 

The disabilities lady at his first college persuaded him to use the cane. You see, there are several different uses for many things in this world. One use for a white cane is identification (otherwise, why would it be white...and why would no one else be allowed to carry a white cane?). If you see someone with a white cane, you automatically know that person is blind...or occasionally, "just" legally blind. When you are driving and you see that person, you know that he might not be able to see you wave him across the road...or, conversely, he might not see that you're going to proceed turning left on your green light, even if he has a green light too, and you expect him to just darn well wait for you (one of my pet peeves, regardless of whether the pedestrian is sighted or not, but if that pedestrian carries a white cane, that driver may be in a heap o' trouble if he makes such an assumption).  

If you're a teacher, you know right away that this person might not see what you're writing on the board. Not that you have to molly-coddle him. You don't. He will tell you what he needs. But it's good to know, right?  If you're a student, you know that he might not see you wave or smile at him across the hallway; you have to speak up. If you're doing business with him, now you know why you might have to show him where the line is to sign on. (Not to worry, if he needs to know what he's signing, he will probably pull out his pocket video magnifier, but if it's something routine, he might ask you where to sign.) 

Wait. Didn't I say he leads the rest of the family around? What did I mean by that, and how can that be, if he's legally blind? Again, we are all different. Not only can he see large objects but he has good peripheral vision, which is what we primarily use for orientation; he hears very well; he has a good memory; and he has good spatial concepts. So if I'm going someplace I haven't been before, or some place that confuses me, I'm always glad when he's with me. 

So, if you ever see someone carrying a white cane, who doesn't seem to be blind, who doesn't sweep the cane in front of him or her, who carries it some of the time and maybe doesn't at other times, now, hopefully, you won't be puzzled. 

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