Anyone losing their sight knows how difficult it is to A) admit you need to use a white cane, and B) actually use one in public. Most of us learn to overcome our fear, our discomfort, and our embarrassment. The statement let your cane mature in the drawer or closet for a while has deep emotional resonance for many of us. It becomes a rite of passage in the lives of visually impaired people to accept the reality and go out into the world with their heads held high.
I was so embarrassed using my white cane. My first outing had to be out of town, in another state. I couldn’t run into anyone I knew. I can smile about it now, but at the time, it felt like I was wearing a neon sign saying “blind lady coming through!”
That occurred three years ago. And while I’ve become more proficient in cane travel, I’d be untruthful if I said I was totally comfortable with it. There’s still the slight embarrassment when I catch my reflection in a store window. It surprises me to see the cane because it has never become a part of my self-image.
What about a guide dog instead? Everyone loves dogs, right? Who wouldn’t enjoy having one?
I was afraid I might not be one of them. I never grew up with a dog or cat. And there’s the small matter of being deathly afraid of dogs most of my life after trying to outrun a greyhound as a child. Would it be possible to overcome that fear to have a guide dog? I realized I’d already overcome several fears: going blind, giving up driving, and needing a white cane. Vision loss requires problem-solving. It’s the only way to have a “normal” life. I viewed my fear of dogs as another challenge to conquer.
Two years ago, I met a woman who was a puppy raiser for one of the guide schools. I went to some of the monthly meetings with other puppy raisers to see training for myself. I asked millions of questions. And I discovered something-I really do like dogs! At the Foundation Fighting Blindness’ Visions 2013 conference, I talked with every guide dog owner, collected data on schools and asked owners many questions. Sitting at a table with a gentleman and his resting dog, I asked permission to interact with his dog. That lab, after a few scratches, put his chin on my leg and a paw on my arm and just looked at me. I was hooked.
I’m now awaiting a training class and meeting my new companion. I believe a dog will help expand my travels around town. That discomfort using the cane should melt away. Dogs, especially working dogs, draw people in, unlike a white cane that sometimes distances them.
I have been a teacher my entire adult life and retired due to vision issues. I miss that connection to kids. I hope to create school presentations and talk with children about the Dos and Don’ts of interacting with blind or visually impaired individuals and demonstrate the incredible skills of a service dog.
A cane or a canine is a major decision. I have always enjoyed learning and this journey of partnering with a guide dog will be, I’m sure, an incredible journey. So, let’s discuss canes and canines. Do you use a white cane? Or what about a guide dog? Which option works best for you? Share your comments in the section below.