Braille Monitor

February, 1990

WHAT USE IS THE LONG WHITE CANE?

by Sharon Duffy

Sharon Duffy is Mobility Instructor at the Orientation Center of the New Mexico Commission for the Blind. She is a good teacher and a perceptive author. The following excerpts are taken from Miss Duffy's The White Cane, copyright, 1987. Apparently they appeared a few months ago in the publication of the NFB of Florida. Although we did not catch them at that time, we picked them up in the October, 1989, Insight, the publication of the NFB of South Dakota. They make a lot of sense. Here they are: Cane travel is one of the most valuable skills a blind person can attain. It not only means independence for the individual but is more often the means of acceptance of blindness than any other skill.

1) A blind person who uses a cane is not only making a statement to others that he is blind but, more importantly, is acknowledging his own blindness. In dealing with the challenges that blindness brings, the first step must be this acceptance of blindness, and then the ability to look at each problem unemotionally and logically to work out its solution.

2) It is respectable to be blind. It is respectable to use a cane, and it is normal for blind persons to use canes.

3) Why is the denial of blindness so prevalent? Throughout time blindness has been portrayed as helplessness, and today it continues to get bad press via commercials, movies, and literature. Most blind people recognize that they do not fit the negative stereotypes presented. Therefore, many blind individuals' reaction is to deny that they are blind. Pride in ourselves as human beings and acceptance of what we are is the real solution.

4) We should take our white canes with us wherever we go. It is important in identifying ourselves as blind persons in terms of public awareness. Identifying oneself as blind can reduce the number of uncomfortable situations which would arise without it. The blind person who asks where something is, something in plain sight, spares himself and the sighted person embarrassment. Since the incidence of blindness is so low, a person probably would not immediately conceive that the individual asking the question is blind.

5) Many blind people mistakenly believe that they appear more normal if they don't carry a cane. The fact is that the public may not recognize that a person is blind but does realize that there is something different mental retardation, drunkenness, illiteracy, to name a few. Ultimately it is more comfortable for blind people to identify themselves as blind, allaying the confusion that results from the misidentification that would otherwise inevitably occur.

6) Self-confidence is the goal of cane travel. It can be achieved through promotion of the respectability of blindness, learning good technical skills, and challenging ourselves to do what we did not believe we could do. Do whatever it takes to attain this end.