If you witness me walking with my white cane you have been given an opportunity.
You may choose to believe this stick is solely for me.
You may view the cane as a reason to question my ability.
Reflect on this entire moment being centered around your ability to see.
For if you do not, the symbol I walk with, has lost the power of being for we.
After six months of progressively losing my sight, my vision had gotten to a point where I did not feel comfortable or safe walking in unfamiliar territory alone. This severely limited the amount of independence I was afforded and the frustration which stemmed from feeling trapped was unbearable. I did not want to start using a white cane, which I had previously seen other visually impaired or blind individuals use. I believed that to walk around with this piece of equipment was equitable to shouting to everyone, “Hey! I am blind!.” Although this is exactly who I was, I was not emotionally ready to publicly share this identity with the world. However, there came a point where the desire for independence won the battle over my fear and shame. When I decided to lean into the vulnerability, not only did I gain a degree of my independence back, but my life became astonishingly more simple in a way I had never foreseen.
As I have now been using my cane (which I refer to as my stick. Because for me, the word cane creates images and thoughts which are different than the function which I use the device for) for over a year I have learned that it is as much for me as it is for others. For me, the stick serves as a means to signal if stairs are coming up. It allows me to identify where sidewalks are and if I am about to walk into a puddle. Most importantly, my stick allows for those who I encounter to be aware of my identity.
When I am traveling alone, navigating an airport becomes quite difficult. The inability to see the gate numbers, find security, or know where bathrooms are located are just a few examples of what makes these locations, as well as many others, troublesome to independently navigate. When I am traveling alone, and need to get to the gate which my flight is departing from, I must ask for help. Without my stick, this request for assistance might get me a quizzical look paired with a less than kind and confused explanation of the directions. At this point, I am required to share that I have a visual impairment and to have someone assist me to the gate would be helpful.
This same situation with my stick looks like this:
Me: “Is there anyone who can help me get to my gate?”
Airport employee: “Yes, let me call someone right up.”
These same obstacles are what keep many in the community including myself for a short time, from traveling solo. But once I began using my stick, my fears of navigating these new and unknown waters began to dissipate.
Whether I am in an airport asking for assistance to my gate, at a restaurant asking about the items on the menu, or crossing paths with someone I have met before but am unable to distinguish them based on their voice, my needs are different from others. Without saying a word, my stick communicates to others a request for grace, patience, and understanding.
What I appreciate most about my stick, is what I previously feared most. My stick has given me the ability and confidence to ask for help and be more comfortable with my identity. Although, you might not carry a stick like mine, the identities you hold, and your human need for assistance still exists. I am still learning many lessons about vulnerability, but I have experienced the positive impact of leaning into those pieces of your life which are most uncomfortable and unknown, and doing so with others. Asking for help does not mean you are weak; it means you are strong enough to recognize that we are greater than me.