Don’t Mess with the Stick

While I’m not nearly as attached to my cane as other blind people are to their guide dogs (for obvious reasons) I still like having it around. It’s my mobility tool of choice, and it works well for me. More than that though, it represents security. A cane will almost always tell me what’s directly in front of me. It helps me walk in a straight line, because I can trail along walls, sidewalks and so on. My cane is a major contribution to my independence.
The cane is called many things, some of them peculiar: I’ve heard people call it my “helper”, “walking pole”, and even “special friend”. One older gentleman approached me and asked me whether I hike; “I have one like that, too,” he gushed. It’s hard to keep a straight face, let me tell you. I don’t mind if someone refers to it as my “stick”, but some blind people are particularly sensitive about it. If you’re unsure, just use cane to be on the safe side.

People are sometimes unaware that it’s important to me. They don’t know that it provides a degree of safety I wouldn’t otherwise have. They treat it like any other ordinary object, much the same way you’d treat a coat or backpack. They handle it like something they can take away from me.

When I enter someone’s home, I will often allow the cane to be taken away, for the simple reason that bringing a cane into a house is akin to leaving your shoes on—something that simply isn’t done in my culture, at least. It’s been everywhere my shoes have been, so it’s often trailed through mud, snow, and … other things, of which I prefer to remain ignorant. Unless I feel really uncomfortable navigating a strange house on my own, I will be glad to store the cane and use sighted guide instead.

In all other places, though—including and especially outdoor areas—I insist that my cane remain in my hand and under my control. If I’m left in an unfamiliar area without my cane, I become far less secure in my environment. I’ll walk much slower than normal, in case I bump into something. I tend to shuffle along, because I’m feeling my way with my feet instead of a cane, searching for tactile feedback. I will rely even more heavily on my hearing, so that I stand a chance of detecting larger obstacles like pillars, which create sound shadows. I never feel as blind as when I don’t have my cane with me.

Even when I have it handy, people fail to respect boundaries. They’ll lead me by the cane, pull it out of someone’s path, or even insist that I let go altogether so they can guide me (something I seldom allow). I acknowledge that it really does get in the way sometimes. If I have one hand on a guide’s elbow and the other on my cane, my hands are both occupied. My sighted guides often end up carrying trays, drinks, and other awkward objects I can’t put in a backpack or dangle from my arms. I hate that they have to do this, though they are almost always glad to accommodate. Then of course there is the issue of grace: canes are meant to bump gently against things—that’s what they’re for. If I don’t encounter something with my cane, I usually don’t know it’s there at all. Inevitably, my cane will bump things like ankles and—in one unfortunate case—more sensitive bits. It occasionally trips people, though that can be a symptom of distraction on their part. So, yes, it does make life harder for those around me, especially if they’re not paying much attention.

Although it gets on everyone’s nerves (including my own), I refuse to go most places without my cane. Indeed, when I’m without it, my right hand feels awkward. It’s not used to hanging limply, as though it’s uncomfortable without something to grasp. It’s absurd, really, but without my cane I feel slightly unbalanced. There’s something off about going without, unless I’m in a very familiar environment. Mine is collapsible, so it’s easy to bring it everywhere and fold it up when it’s not in use. That way, it’s there the moment I need it. The cardinal sin of cardinal sins: never, ever abandon me in an unfamiliar environment without my cane. If I’m trusting you enough to go anywhere with you sans mobility tool, don’t break that trust.

I sometimes wish people would respect and tolerate the cane the way they respect and tolerate guide dogs, which are far more conspicuous. My cane can’t bark, play, or scrounge for food, after all.

I hope this post has adequately explained why you shouldn’t mess with my stick, why you mustn’t insist that I leave it behind, and why it’s necessary to witness the stares I’ll invariably get. It’s just one of those things. So please—leave the stick alone.

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15 thoughts on “Don’t Mess with the Stick

  1. I’ve had people ask me whether I play golf as my cane looks like a golf stick. well, one of my canes was just a rigid cane which had golf pride on the rubber hand grip. and as for the cane being my sense of security, I’ve said this before but i’ll say it again. if I go out somewhere without my cane I feel vulnerable without it. when I’m at my house or my parent’s house and more recently my grandmother’s town house I manage to get around without the cane as I know these areas well. if ever we go to a friend’s house this particular friend and his wife built their brand new house about 5 years ago now and put in floating floors. or for those who don’t know what floating floors are they put down floor boards. well that’s what I think a floating floor is unless there is a difference. I’m discouraged from sometimes using my cane on this floor surface only because the tip may leave scratches. my parents have asked me to give them my cane when I’m at this house but I refuse and there’s 1 golden rule when it comes to canes. always have a spair cane handy in case you accidentally snap your cane as without a spair you’re screwed.

  2. I think the golf reference may be specific to Australia. Bevria, the company that makes our canes, used to use grips that looked similar to golf stick handles, perhaps they actually were. As the last person commented, they had “golf pride” written on them. So, I can sort of see how people would make this mistake but it’s frustrating nonetheless.

    • I take it lauren you are also from Australia hence your references? I actually laugh along with the comments I get about whether it is a golf stick it’s not always frustrating although I do correct people whenever they refer to it as my stick.

  3. Love this!!! I run a charity for blind kids in the UK- we have the only Children’s Cane Bank in the UK. My son Lucas has had a cane since he started moving, and if a photo is taken of him outdoors without it, it almost looks like he’s missing part of himself. Would you consider writing something for us, or sending me this so I can reblog and share? We are called Common Sense

    My son has Aspergers too- and gets really mad when people call it a ‘stick’, which we help him rationalise- but the number of “off golfing?” Comments we’ve had is crazy!

    Awesome read- thanks.

  4. I love this post and your blog. However, I don’t necessary agree that people treat guide dogs with more respect and tolerance than they do a cane. My guide dog and I have been together for two years now, and in that time, I have had people grab her leash or harness to try and direct me, pet her without my consent, and generally make it extremely difficult for us to travel independently. Perhaps this is a whole other issue on guide dog etiquette, but the title of this post could well be translated to “Don’t mess with the dog.” 🙂

    • Hi there. So glad you’re enjoying the blog. I hope I get to keep you.
      As for the guide dog issue, I think I could have used clearer wording, because you’re right: people try to pet and feed the dog (though I’ve never seen a dog being grabbed by the harness to redirect–that’s awful! If you want to write a counterpoint about dogs, you can guest post.) I think I was really talking about tolerance more than respect, minus the odd shopkeeper/airline. Dogs have none of the ick factor that canes do (unless you’re allergic/religiously obliged to think they’re yucky). People see you with the dog and it’s all positive attention and outpourings of love. With a cane, well, people just stare at you like “What’s the stick for? You’re weird.” People have been actively telling me to get a dog since I was a child, yet they hated walking around with me when I had a cane because people would stare at me like I had some kind of disease.

  5. I definitely fall into the category of those who insist that the cane is referred to as a cane and not a stick. My mother sometimes calls mine a stick and that really annoys me. Sticks are for people who can’t walk properly; blind people use canes, not sticks.

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