For those who have read my column in the past, I have been blind my whole life, but I always have had enough vision to not have to use a cane. Or so I was told.
I always felt like, and honestly sometimes I still do, that I’m walking a line. Am I blind? Or, am I sighted? Maybe you don’t have to pick a side but I have had a tough time walking this line.
One of the biggest issues for me, in using a cane, was how it made me look. I always want to look fashionable and normal. For most of my life I thought this wasn’t really possible if I used a cane. I felt like I could be more myself without a cane, because I wouldn’t look so different. I wanted people to notice me and not my cane.
It wasn’t until I was 23 that I really started thinking about using a cane. I remember the first time someone gave me one to use I went to my room and bawled. I hated it.
I hated feeling so different. I honestly thought that people would never again notice that I was trendy, hip and fashionable; instead they would just see my cane.
There was this moment in college that one of my teachers asked me to come present to her college class on disabilities what it was like to be blind. At the time, I didn’t use a cane or read Braille — I just struggled through school. I told this professor I’d be glad to do it.
The day of the presentation I showed up and gave my presentation on how normal I am for being blind. Looking back it was horrible.
I had no clue what I was talking about and was so far from embracing the skills of blindness it was absurd. My mom picked me up from school that day and said to me, “Did you realize that you have two different shoes on today, one brown and one black?” I was completely humiliated.
It was a moment I won’t forget.
I realized that day that by not embracing the skills of blindness in my life, I was losing myself and my credibility as a fashionista. It was an embarrassing way to learn a lesson.
Shortly after I learned to use a cane, I went on a trip to New York City. I was walking down the street and staring into the windows of the department stores looking at the most beautiful shoes I’d ever seen.
I got emotional, not because of the shoes, well somewhat because of the shoes, but because for the first time in my life I was looking at everything around me instead of the floor. My cane was giving me information on the ground and I could use the vision I did have to look at things I really loved looking at, like shoes.
The hardest thing in the world for a person who has some vision, but not enough of it is to pick up a cane; it’s that final, obvious thing that classifies you as a blind person. But with the proper training on how to use it, you learn pretty quickly how to be most comfortable in your own skin.
Deja M. Powell is programs manager at the Professional Development and Research Institute on Blindness at Louisiana Tech University and a 2008 alumna of the Louisiana Center for the Blind in Ruston. She writes a monthly column for the Daily Leader.