Freedom Sticks: How My White Cane Brought Me Freedom

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susan holding white cane standing next to Lion monument at NYPL

It was a sunny autumn morning a few years ago. On the brick pathway in front of my house, my mobility instructor and I stood side-by-side. I swept my new white cane across the uneven surface, registering the sensation of the bricks compared to the smooth wooden porch boards I explored earlier. The bumps and cracks felt jarring and jumbled together. The information overwhelmed my brain. I stopped and asked if my arm was at the correct angle, I didn't want to be making a habit with a poor stance. My instructor assured me my posture was fine.

Practice is Important

"With practice, you'll get the hang of it," he said. I nodded and moved my cane again. With any new motor skill, muscle nerves need repetition to store the movement into the brain's long term memory. Initially, everything would feel deliberate even klunky. I put faith in my instructor and gave my awkwardness the benefit of the doubt. Learning is exciting.

I wanted to learn. I realize some people with vision loss hesitate for a variety of reasons to try orientation and mobility skills. For me, it was a way forward; I was ready to be independent and using a white cane would give me freedom. Sign me up.

Fear of Traveling Begins to Lift

Over the next few weeks and months, I experienced a lot. One of the first things I remember feeling when I let my white cane lead as I traveled around my neighborhood was the burden it relieved from fear. I left behind the stressful idea I might be about to trip and fall. Instead, I could lift my head and relax my neck and walk with a sense of ease.

I admit, it's not amazing all the time. One unmistakable thing I'm aware of is the handle-to-the-gut jab. Moving quickly while abbreviating my form increases the chances I miss the cue it's time to halt. In a moment, the cane can belly check me. Oomph. It's not just new users who receive this quick, handle-hello. Seasoned but perhaps distracted users take the hit, too.

Mobility Builds Confidence

Alternatively, a feeling I revel in daily is the solid thunk of the marshmallow-shaped rolling tip connecting with a raised surface like a tall, yellow bollard. Success. It feels just as neat when I'm alerted by a distinct wrist lift when my cane tetters over the edge of a plane like a step. It worked again, I think.

By far the everlasting feeling I get from using my white cane is confidence. It wasn't instantaneous the first time I used my mobility device. Each time I practiced technique and toured places, it grew and grew. It turned into positive reinforcement to keep putting effort into incorporating the motor skills. I noticed what used to be stiff changed into smooth, familiar movement. Now I mobilize easily in unfamiliar places as well as usual routes like the walk to my bus stop from work because I honed my white cane skills.

My White Cane Gives Me Freedom

Confidence follows experience. From the first few sweeps across bricks to traversing my neighborhood to routine bus commutes, my white cane gives me freedom, indeed.

Did you face vision loss recently? Are you considering using a white cane? Are you already using a white cane for mobility? What was your experience like learning how to use one? Tell me about it.

Read More Blog Posts About Using a Cane

How I Accepted the White Cane

Choices We Make

My First Mobility Lessons Learning to Use a White Cane

The White Cane Symbol of Dependence or Independence

Getting Around

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