Post Title: The Secret to Mobility Without a White Cane.
REACHING A PIVOTAL CROSSROADS.
Living with a degenerative eye condition like Retinitis Pigmentosa, one goes through so many different stages, but none more dramatic as reaching the point where white cane training is inevitable.
After I received my much-needed orientation and mobility training, aka with a white cane, I conveniently “forgot” it for the first year or two in more outings than I like to recall. That was “the official route,” and useful, but how practical was using a cane in my everyday life?
My attitude was part of the transition, the whole “fake blind” mindset. Because I still had some useable vision, it took awhile for my head knowledge to become a part of my daily routine. I could say the words, “I need a cane to be safe,” but it didn’t match what I felt inside. I still put too much stock in my faulty vision, and the beliefs I had about what vision loss meant. Acceptance is such a slow process.
A few years and more than a few dangerous and embarrassing situations later, I realized “remembering” to take my cane made more sense. It felt more natural and I didn’t need to apologize for having residual sight. The words of my orientation and mobility trainer, “Bob,” echoed in my head, “We all live in one world, although we may respond to it through different senses.” Up until that point and for quite some time after, I had responded to my environment with my physical vision. Bob was teaching me to respond non-visually when I needed to. He told me the non-visual techniques were “no less legitimate than visual methods, and no less safe.”
Amazingly, and over time, I appreciated how my trainer modeled acceptance and practical solutions. Bob modified my idea of “blindness” and what I needed to do to stay independent. My story is similar to many who have received white cane training. For someone who has dealt with sight most of his or her life, adjustment comes in waves.
ADAPTING COMES IN WAVES … SOMETIMES, TIDAL WAVES.
For me, it was like jumping into water up to my waist, then finding myself in up to my shoulders and often, just keeping my head above water, thinking I surely wouldn’t make it. Then I retreated to the shore, and took much smaller and more tentative steps into the water of sight loss. I dipped a toe in, then waded in up to my ankles, then got my knees wet. As I became more acclimated to the “temperature,” I moved out further. Finally, I tread water. I felt comfortable in my surroundings.
But then I received more mobility training from a new instructor, who recommended a different cane tip—big, round and heavy. The purpose was to move more safely over uneven terrain, such as sidewalks, pavement, or around road works without the cane tip getting caught in the cracks.
When my trainer assessed my skills on our first neighborhood walk, she noticed how suddenly my marshmallow tip would catch on the uneven pavement or even get caught in a crack. The result? A tough jab to my abdomen! This happened frequently but, as usual, I vowed to become skillful in my use of the cane. I never thought to change my tip.
Shortly afterwards, a terrible situation arose that made me quit using that cane tip for a long time.
After the unexpected passing of a family member, my brother and I went to Walmart. We bought some picture frames for the viewing at the funeral home. We both moved slowly and my brother, especially, dragged along. The smooth pavement offered no resistance to my cane tip, which I swung in a wide arc ahead of me.
Without warning, I heard a loud crash and to my disbelief, found my brother on the floor! I had tripped him with my cane! That awful, round cane tip…. He seemed dazed. I burst into tears. I couldn’t believe what happened! Customers gathered around us. Someone grabbed a Walmart employee. I sobbed, overwhelmed by my grief and the accident, and was unable to speak coherently. My brother—a big guy who fell hard—didn’t move. He seemed stunned. Guilt piggybacked my grief and for an awful moment, I feared I killed him. Then a leg and an arm moved, and finally, with help, he stood up. He would be all right. I folded up my cane, and let my sobs ebb into hiccups as we limped out of the store, each wrapped in our own thoughts and feelings. In the car, I couldn’t stop apologizing. I felt like a tidal wave had engulfed me. I flailed inside, gasping for air with my mobility aid. I wanted to toss it away forever.
I never used that cane with its heavy, round tip around my brother again.
THE SECRET TO MOBILITY.
Now, a couple of years later, the neighborhood sidewalks come into play again. This time, I team up with my brother. Each evening, I encourage him to walk a mile with me for his health. He is an insulin-dependent diabetic and I have learned in my Prevention of Diabetes Awareness class how vital diet and exercise are.
But walking side by side on the sidewalk with my white cane won’t work. We walk at different speeds. I never want to trip him again, no matter what cane tip I use. Instead, we developed a system that works for us. In some ways, he is my sighted guide. Because we walk in the evening but before darkness sets in, I don’t ask him to take my arm. The bright glare of sunlight I always fight against has gone down, and the residual sun aids me. But essential to our success is the warnings he provides.
“Amy, step up. That sidewalk is cracked.” “Watch it, that pavement is crumbling.” “Ah, careful, to your right.” He lends an extra set of eyes to me, which makes it possible to move without my white cane. Trust grows during these walks.
I care about his health, and he, in turn, cares about my safety. Sometimes I move too quickly before he can get a warning out but never so fast that I trip.
I have learned the secret to situational mobility without a cane (after having used a cane) is flexibility, self-awareness and adaptability. It was as difficult to lay down my cane as it was to pick it up earlier. But it helps to have a strong partnership and trust. It’s not a question of denial or transition. I know what I need to succeed, especially in my own neighborhood but that can come in the form of a partial sighted guide, in a way we are both comfortable with.
Sometimes I ask my brother where we are when I can’t distinguish a familiar landmark along our mile-long walk each evening. He patiently fills in the gaps. We move, side by side, our rapport strong, as we each put each other’s needs ahead of our own.
Those in the neighborhood who know I use a white cane may be confused if they see me outside their window, while mowing their lawns, or backing out of their driveways. They may not understand how I can suddenly “see” without a white cane. They may wonder if I am faking my blindness. When you are losing your vision but haven’t lost it yet, it’s hard for others to understand this continuum.
The waves come and go, higher and lower, as I face everyday life with my white cane. Through it all, Bob’s words anchor me to my challenges—it’s one world, which may be perceived with different techniques. There is no one right way. I can use my sight when I can, and use my cane when I can’t. I can use a sighted guide or a guide dog. Technology is changing, allowing for more possibilities. The only thing that limits me – is me.
How have you faced a persistent challenge over time? What is your secret to overcoming? What advice anchors you to hope?
You have just read, “The Secret to Mobility Without a White Cane” by Amy L. Bovaird. © July 23, 2019. All rights reserved.
5 Stars “…I’m not vision impaired. I don’t read non-fiction for enjoyment. I am not what some might consider the target market for this book, but I can tell you that I would recommend it to my own teenagers, my husband, my teenage students, and anyone else I know as a book of bravery, encouragement, motivation, testimony, and just as a pleasure read. Don’t pass it by: You will be blessed.”–An Amazon Reader
5 Stars “Living in the Power instead of the fear!”
Mobility Matters elegantly shares Amy Bovaird’s emotions and experience which anyone going through vision loss can identify with. The transformation as she overcomes her fear and the enemies voices that her loss of vision will now define who she is as a person and dictate the rest of her life, will inspire hope to each reader. Amy’s journey stepping out in faith and how the Lord’s Word gave her the strength to keep going, is a must read.
This book is not only for those going through the hallway of vision loss, but for each family member or any one who loves someone losing their vision would also benefit by reading.
Mobility Matters Stepping out in Faith has left me thinking I will now call canes power sticks!!!
Michael Benson, Founder
Visual Experience Foundation
4 Stars “…As a mobility specialist myself, I found this book of great interest to me for its subject matter. I was quite amazed that Amy could get around on her own with her genetic condition, particularly at night, since individuals with Retinitis Pigmentosa (RP) tend to lose their night vision and are using a cane at night much sooner than Amy was using any assistive device (even a bright light). Amy maintained her positive attitude, her faith and her sense of humour. If only we all could do that in times of crisis!” –Kathryn Svendsen, Mobility Specialist, Canada
5 Stars “Couldn’t stop reading until I finished. Very inspirational. Will definitely be looking for more by this author!” –Sharon Hannah
5 stars “…This book really inspired me. Amy’s outlook on life is what I would like to model in my own. Yes, going blind SUCKS but she took it to another level. She made it into an adventure and I needed to be reminded of that again. Her positive outlook on this all has really encouraged me in my current situation now. Taking the step of faith to move on forward and embrace life for what it is. I highly recommend purchasing this book! Be inspired, take a journey behind the life of someone with Usher, smile, laugh, and enjoy! –Andi Nicole
5 Stars “As a person who lives with chronic illness, I sometimes get bogged down with books on illness that feel really heavy. This one does not. Author Amy Bovaird, who is losing her sight, writes so well about her personal experiences, I feel like I’m walking alongside her as I read. I kept coming back to the story to see what happened–was she going to let fear stop her? Would she overcome?
The lessons Amy learns through her experiences apply to any of us who fear aging, illness, new symptoms, or really anyone who needs some inspiration, and that reminder that much can be accomplished if you step out and forward–even when you cannot see beyond that first step. I definitely enjoyed this book. –Kimberly Rae, Bestselling Author of the Stolen Series
Blog post review by Gillian Davis, RP Tunnel of Sight
One of the best books I have ever read about mobility and white cane use is called Mobility Matters: Stepping out in Faith by Amy Bovard. It is funny, poignant and packs a lot of tips and useful information. You can find it by following the link below to Amy’s web page and listen to a chapter before you buy, it is wonderful.