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Everyone Has a Cane,
Just Like Me!
by Nalida E. L. Besson
Editor’s Note: At what age can blind children benefit from the experience of attending the NFB national convention? Sixteen? Twelve? Seven? The Besson family discovered that something valuable can be gained even at the tender age of four- and one-half. Nalida Besson and her husband, Michael, have become, in a very short time, active leaders in the NOPBC and NFB. Nalida was elected to the NOPBC board at the 2002 annual meeting, and is also the NOPBC parent contact for the state of Massachusetts. Here is what Nalida has to say about her daughter’s experience at the 2002 convention:
Mikaëlla Besson, with her cane,
at the 2002 Convention.
This past summer, Mikaëlla attended her third convention of the National Federation of the Blind. We began attending the annual conventions in 2000 when Mika was two and one-half-years-old. Mika already had a cane by then. She was a late walker, walking just two weeks before her second birthday. A few months later, we bought Mika her first cane. The NFB parents’ division (the National Organization of Parents of Blind Children—NOPBC) gave her a longer, lighter cane at the 2000 convention.
Mika is blind (but with some partial vision) from congenital cataracts and secondary glaucoma. She has problems with depth perception and would stumble and fall constantly when there was a change in floor surfaces such as doorway thresholds. When she began using her cane, she began to feel the changes and no longer fell and bruised herself. Just a few minutes of mobility lessons and Mika was up and running. Using the cane was like second nature for her.
A lot of people were skeptical when they first saw Mika with her cane. But Mika’s proficiency for her age taught them all a lesson: Never underestimate a child. An Orientation and Mobility instructor who came to do a consult was pleasantly surprised that Mika could use the cane. Mika never wanted to use the pre-cane device that the instructor had brought for her. In fact, the pre-cane was so awkward for her to use that it caused her to stumble. The O & M instructor was happy to write up a plan for Mika to use her long cane.
Mika’s grandma was worried about the cane at first. Before getting her cane, Mika had often tripped on the chair legs in grandma’s kitchen. With the traffic in that kitchen, chairs were often not pushed in and Mika would trip on the legs. Mika’s grandma thought Mika would fall with the cane. “Well, just look at her go,” she marveled as Mika safely walked around the chairs by finding the bottom of the chair legs with her cane.
Even with this early cane experience, I don’t think Mika really got a good appreciation for the cane until the 2002 national convention. At four and one-half, she understands a little more about what being blind is. She knows that her papa is blind like her and has a cane like her. She also knows that NFB members she meets at local chapter meetings are blind like her and that some use canes while others use dog guides.
At the 2002 convention, as Mika walked among thousands of people using canes, she became excited. “Everyone has a cane just like me!” she kept exclaiming. Every time her cane crossed the path of another person’s cane, she would giggle with excitement because she had “found a cane.” When we stopped to chat with other families, Mika would say, “this little girl [or boy] has a cane too.” We told her that a lot of people have canes because there are a lot of blind people at the convention.
Mika had such a great time at the convention. Everywhere she traveled, cane in hand, she met other convention attendees who liked to come up to her and show her their canes. Mika would measure hers to the much longer canes.
Here, at the National Federation of the Blind convention, Mika was absolutely at home. Almost everyone had a cane just like her. She did not constantly hear whispers of “What’s wrong with the little girl.” Instead, she constantly heard, “You’ve got a cool cane.” It is no wonder that on the last day of the convention Mika said, “I like the National Federation of the Blind!”
Parents from Massachusetts who would like to network with other parents, find out how to get involved in the NFB, or just need support and information, may contact Nalida Besson, who lives in the Boston area, at firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com or (617) 474-9572.