Future Reflections                                                                                     Spring/Summer 2004

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Customize Your Cane

by Jody W. Ianuzzi

I was one of those low vision people who are convinced that they don’t really need to use a white cane. If I bent over and stared at the ground three feet in front of me, I would only occasionally trip over a miscalculated step. I would bump into people, but I told myself that happened only because I wasn’t paying attention. To quote my teenage son, “Not.” Now I would feel naked if I left the house without my cane.

I will admit that this change in my attitude was not an easy process for me. It took several years and a lot of soul-searching to reach this point. I can thank the writers of the many wonderful articles on cane travel that have appeared in the Braille Monitor over the years for their perspective and encouragement. The simple fact of the matter is that the only person I was fooling by not using a cane was me. It was the same old story that is always true of blind people with a little residual vision—everyone recognizes that you are blind but you.

The breakthrough for me was the realization that I would rather walk tall as a competent blind person than work my way down the street bent over, trying to see where I was going and not giving a very good impression. How much easier travel is now! My problem wasn’t my vision, it was my attitude. This poor attitude was even conveyed to my son. When I first started using my cane, I was self-conscious and my son said, “Mom, put that thing away; everyone is looking at you.” As my attitude changed, so did his. He later said to me, “Hey Mom, everyone is looking at you because you are doing such a good job.” Out of the mouths of babes!

When I talk to blind kids about using a cane, they always object that people will notice them. My answer is, “Sure, people will notice; people notice everything—whether you are thin or fat, short or tall, red-haired or blond. Some people are even dying their hair green to become more noticeable. So what if they notice you use a cane? You don’t have to hide your cane, it is symbol of your independence.”

A proud car owner washes and waxes his car because it is his symbol of freedom and independence. He can’t travel efficiently without it, and he wants it always to look as good as possible. For the same reasons I take care of my canes.

I have never been known to leave well enough alone, so I have customized my canes. I use an NFB telescoping cane. But let’s face it, it is plain white, so why not spruce it up with a fancy handle? I have found a variety of grips that I add to my canes. My favorite one is a steering wheel cover. These are available in a variety of styles and colors and can be found in most discount stores. Other covers you might like to use are golf and tennis racket grips.(These are as close to a steering wheel or tennis racket as I’m going to get.) They look great, and they are practical as a non-slip grip when you are wearing gloves. So you can have a sporty cane or a fancy cane or an elegant cane. You can pick the style you want to match the occasion.

You can now buy reflective tape in most discount or hardware stores (similar to ScotchLite, but easier to apply). You can’t tape the telescoping canes without sacrificing the capacity to collapse the cane when convenient, but I put some reflective tape on my rigid cane for night use. I feel more comfortable knowing it is a little more visible at night. When it snows, I use a rigid cane. I added a red reflective tip to my snow cane because I have heard that a white cane is very hard for people to see in the snow. If it is snowing hard, I increase my visibility by wearing an orange hunter’s hat.

When I first started using my cane, I carried it in an umbrella case so no one would see it. Now I have a cane for all occasions and a few spares. It’s all in your attitude, so have fun!

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