By: Deja Powell
Published in the Ruston Daily Leader on July 14, 2011
I did not grow up blind. Well technically I did, but I was pretty great at playing it off like I wasn’t.
After all, I had a little bit of vision and in most cases I could get away with few people noticing, or at least that’s what I thought. I was visually impaired or partially sighted but I would never use the term blind.
While I never learned Braille as a child, I don’t think I would have had such an issue with that. I mean it would have been cool, being able to read and write in code, most people think Braille is pretty neat after all. But where I had the biggest issue was, using a cane.
I knew that if I used a cane there would absolutely be no way for me to hide the truth. I would stand out like a sore thumb and everyone would know I was blind. There was no way I was going to use one.
However, looking back, I realize now that the fact that I didn’t use a cane was much more revealing of my blindness. Let me take you back to one of, OK not one of, but THE most embarrassing moment I can remember.
I was on a dance trip to New York City. It was my dream to go to NYC someday so I was pretty excited to go. While on this trip, my first trip to a big city, I struggled to get around. Of course I didn’t tell anyone but I was a little freaked out by all the noise, traffic, people and buildings, instead of being excited to finally be in NYC I was pretty much freaking out the whole time.
My group headed off to see the Statue of Liberty, I took the ferry over, stared at the ground the whole time (so I wouldn’t trip on anything) and was pretty much too nervous to pay much attention. We walked into the Statue of Liberty gift shop and I was simply looking around, checking out the items in the store, when I spotted something I was interested in, hats. I walked up to get a closer look, I touched the fabric, adjusted the brim of the hat, spun the hat around and then to my complete and utter shock, a face turned around and looked at me. It was a little girl and the only thing I could think to say was, “I’m so sorry, I thought you were a hat rack!” I was horrified.
I walked away so fast, straight to my mom and friends. They asked me, “What were you doing to that little girl? Do you know her?” Shaking at this point I just said, “No, I thought she was a hat rack!” Everyone started laughing uncontrollably and honestly I did too. Who wouldn’t? But it was humiliating.
I learned a hard lesson that day. Maybe not using a cane was worse than using a cane, when you mistake people for hat racks, there’s something missing. It took a couple more years and several more embarrassing moments before I actually started using a cane.
It’s funny how hindsight is 20/20. Now that I use a cane, I feel more normal, more like myself than ever before. I didn’t know at the time that the cane would actually give me more freedom to be myself and look “normal.” For a long time I thought people who used canes were frumpy, didn’t know how to dress, looked so strange and fumbled around all the time. I now know that with a cane, and the proper training, I can still wear my pink pumps and walk around confidently and with dignity.
For many blind people, using the cane is the biggest hurdle to overcome. It’s that final element that classifies us as blind people. It’s an important lesson for all to learn. We should use the tools that help us, that enhance who we are.
Now people mistake my cane for a hat rack — the irony.