Giving the Cane a Chance

Like any new mobility aid, the cane was going to take some time to get used to. I may not have liked the idea of it all to begin with, but I felt the same when I started using a wheelchair and a walking stick- there seems to be a theme here! Yet, this felt slightly different, entering a new medical world of visual impairment.

After being registered as partially sighted in February, it was advised that using a white cane would be beneficial due to how my visual impairment affects my sight. I am not going to lie, this was a shock. If you have read previous posts on this then you'll know that I did decide to learn how to use a long cane in an attempt to stop myself tripping up over things, but I was quite apprehensive about using a long cane.

To begin with I did find it helpful during the training sessions and saw how it could be really useful for myself, but using it was another thing all together. The first time I used my white cane was when I was looking in a few shops with my family. As strange as this sounds, due to where we had gone shopping meant I probably wasn't going to bump into people that I knew- this being a good thing. It wasn't that I was embarrassed about using a white cane, more the fact of others reactions. People are aware I have Cerebral Palsy, I cannot really hide that one. However, the vast majority of people would not think I 'qualify' to use a white cane- myself included!

When university started again I now had a decision on my hands, a white cane or a walking stick. It is a decision that I still make everyday. However, at the start of university it would be my stick, not because I was in more pain than usual that day, or because it was a further distance- but because people at university were unaware. All my lecturers were aware that I had a visual impairment and had known since February when it was registered, but that was it. I had even used my cane when going out with friends, just not within the university. Also, to begin with I wasn't really sure what I was doing with my cane, convinced I was going to do it wrong or knock someones ankle with it- would it be wise for me to use it around campus? Now it is a very different story with me probably using my white cane around campus more then my walking stick. However, I have knocked someones ankle a few times!

On the other hand, like the title says- I did give the cane a chance. I certainly was not going to learn how to use my cane if it remained folded in a draw and was never looked at again. Who knows, this might actually help? Maybe the things I noticed during training will continue, and I will benefit from using a white cane, regardless of what others might think.

So it happened, I picked up the cane and off to university I went!

It was not a horrible experience that when awfully wrong, resulting in me on the floor and knocking other people over (I had thought about this one!), it was actually quite pleasant. Chloe used a white cane, no big deal. I used a cane and didn't always get the timing right or hold it the correct way, no big deal. People at my university moved out of the way as I approached them, they were mindful and didn't knock into me. Even getting on the train to and from university was easier. Regardless of my eyesight, people moving out of my way is a massive help and can prevent falls.

They say you learn to drive a car after you have passed your test, and the long cane is no different. I was taught the basic principles and how I should hold it- making sure I used my long cane in a way that would be beneficial for myself. On the other hand, it is only over time that you learn what different surfaces are or how long you have from hitting your cane on a curb to stepping up the curb. It is only over time that you can figure out whereabouts the next step is in relation to where you are when going down a flight of stairs. Or you can figure out how big a drop off a train is, and this is only something that comes with practice. Yet the biggest difference is at night. If I'm honest, I don't like walking in the dark as my vision is not as good and the contrast of car lights can be painful and almost take over what I see. In the dark things are just harder to differentiate and that is when your cane skills can be tested!

It can be really difficult to explain how the cane helps, but I am going to try. In general, you feel more grounded and aware of your surroundings. I may not be as balanced when I use my long cane instead of my stick, yet my cane can let me know if the surface is uneven. When looking at a flight of stairs for example I have found my cane to be a lot more helpful. Every set of stairs is different, whether that is the drop of each step or the length of the step, this is something I have always found confusing- don't even get me started on escalators! Stairs that I know like the back of my hand are fine, at home for example, as I know how deep the steps are. However, stairs that I am not as familiar with can cause difficulty. If I use my stick it can only go down one step below to gage the drop, but with my cane I am constantly two steps in front.

I've given the cane a chance and can say over the last 3 months it has been a lot more helpful than anticipated, and I probably still have a lot to learn!

~ Chloe x

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