Future Reflections                                                                                         Winter/Spring 2005

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The Cane and I

by Judy Sanders

Reprinted from the Summer 2003 issue of the Minnesota Bulletin, a publication of the NFB of Minnesota.

Judy Sanders
Judy Sanders

It all began when I was ten. It should have started a lot earlier but that's easy to say now.

When my parents discovered that their baby twins were blind they were devastated. What kind of future could they envision for their children? To find out, they began looking for blind adults from whom they could learn. They found two sources: a sheltered workshop that gave blind adults very limited opportunities for employment and a blind bowling league. They volunteered to drive people to the bowling alley. Unfortunately, they did not learn much about what the future could hold.

My parents were practical people; they realized the importance of allowing us to explore our environment. The first thing to go was the playpen. We were encouraged to move around the floor and see what we could find. I am told that I never crawled; I scooted everywhere.

It was later that they started investigating our choices for a good education. In the 1950's most blind children were educated at schools for the blind. We were given a good foundation in reading and writing Braille and in other academics; however, no attention was given to teaching us how to travel from place to place safely and independently; that is, until I was ten.

We learned about inside safety. Trailing the walls and holding our hands in front of our faces for protection from overhead objects was the first lesson. We all felt ridiculous hiding our faces so we never used this technique except during our lessons when we had no choice. To this day, I have not met a blind person who travels in this manner.

My first cane was a short, crook-handled, aluminum cane. It was heavy and I never relaxed while using it. For one thing, I only used it during lessons; no one made me use it at other times and I was not motivated to do it on my own. In fact, I felt very self-conscious when traveling with this cane. I knew people were staring at me. I knew that some blind people made a living by begging on the streets and I had heard that they carried tin cups with a picture of a white cane on them; I did not want to be one of those people.

While telling me it was not necessary for me to use my cane when traveling with other sighted people, I was also told I was amazing for what I could accomplish with the cane. My instructor was invited to speak to various civic groups and I remember being asked to demonstrate the cane. I walked from my chair to the edge of the stage and the audience gasped because I stopped just in time to keep from falling into their laps.

Throughout high school and college I used a folding cane and carried a purse big enough to hide it. My college friends would meet me and take me from place to place. I now know that my social life would have been much more satisfying if I had asserted my independence. I would have been equal with my peers.

Upon graduating from college, I was introduced to the National Federation of the Blind. People were talking about going to a national convention in Houston, Texas, and I considered joining them. I weighed the pros and cons of this journey.

Pro: I wanted a teaching career and I knew I would have the chance to meet other blind educators.

Con: I would not know where to go upon arrival.

Pro: I knew several people who were going and I could stick with them; at least, I would not be alone when we got lost.

The pro list won the day and I had the time of my life! I cannot say that I magically transformed myself into an avid cane user but I began thinking. I noticed what little effort it took for blind people to get around this huge hotel. They even left the hotel to explore the city. Why wasn't I doing these things?

In the next few years, I came to know all that the Federation had to offer. My Federation friends have given me far more than I can ever give back. With respect to the cane, I have come to value my freedom to come and go as I please; I can take pride in saying to my sighted friends and colleagues that I will meet them somewhere. I now travel thousands of miles each year alone and don't think twice about it.

Times have changed. Not only do we have an organization for parents of blind children but because of the National Federation of the Blind there are now *adjustment-to-blindness training centers operated by blind people to teach the use of the cane and make the students proud. Blind people are equal partners in today's society and the cane is one reason why.

I now travel with a lightweight, fiberglass cane and it stands straight and tall. My purse is no longer needed to be a cane holder and I can smile at the people who might be staring at me.v

*The NFB operates three adjustment-to-blindness training centers: BLIND, Inc., the Colorado Center for the Blind, and the Louisiana Center for the Blind. All three of the centers also operate summer blindness-skills programs for children and youth. For more information, contact:

BLIND, Inc. (Blindness: Learning in New Dimensions, Incorporated)
Shawn Mayo, Director
100 East 22nd Street South
Minneapolis, Minnesota 55404
Phone: (612) 872-0100 or
(800) 597-9558
Fax: 612-872-9358
info@blindinc.org

Colorado Center for the Blind
Julie Deden, Director
2233 West Shepperd Avenue
Littleton, Colorado 80120
Phone: (303) 778-1130 or
(800) 401-4632
Fax: 303-778-1598
jdeden@cocenter.org

Louisiana Center for the Blind
Pam Allen, Director
101 South Trenton
Ruston, Louisiana 71270
Phone: (318) 251-2891 or
(800) 234-4166
allenp@lcb-ruston.com

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