Veronica With Four Eyes

Dealing With Imposter Syndrome: College O&M

Shortly before my second year of college, I received a few orientation and mobility lessons for learning how to navigate with low vision and a blindness cane. These lessons were helpful for learning general travel skills, but I noticed they didn’t get into specifics about navigating college campuses or using university resources available for students with vision loss. One of the reasons why I was originally unsure if I needed O&M lessons or a blindness cane in general is because I had associated blindness canes with people who were “totally blind” or had no usable vision, so I wasn’t sure if I was “blind enough” to use a blindness cane as someone who has low vision and didn’t meet the criteria for legal blindness at the beginning of college. Here are my tips for dealing with imposter syndrome as a blindness cane user with low vision and answering the question “am I blind enough to use a cane?”

Some background on my cane experiences

I had my first conversation about using a blindness cane for mobility while I was in high school, but my case manager and other special education staff felt that I didn’t need it and it would “inspire” me to act like my vision was worse than it was. This statement isn’t true, but I recognize they didn’t have a lot of experience with low vision so they thought this was the best option.

After my case with the state department for visual impairment was reopened, my case manager noticed I struggled with running into objects and navigating parking lots, and suggested I should use a blindness cane to help with navigation. I remember asking if I was blind enough to use a cane, and my case manager replied that if I find it beneficial to use a cane for navigating my environment, then it doesn’t matter how much usable vision I have or don’t have.

I officially started using my blindness cane about six weeks later, and associate my first day of college with my first full day of using a blindness cane. Due to unforeseen circumstances, I didn’t receive formal O&M training until a year later.

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Why do I need a cane suddenly?

Since I attended the largest college in my state, there were lots of people that I recognized from my hometown, as well as my first and second high schools. While I wasn’t friends with a lot of these people, they remembered me from school and were confused over why I was suddenly using a blindness cane when I had been able to walk without one when they saw me months or years earlier. Some people even wondered if my vision had really changed or if I just wanted attention.

No one is owed an explanation of my vision loss or why I choose to use a particular mobility aid, but here are some examples of explanations I would use:

  • “I have progressive vision loss, my vision has gotten worse since I last saw you and I use a blindness cane now.”
  • “I use my cane so that I can get places by myself and not have to rely on others.”
  • “I have vision loss not corrected by glasses, it’s safer for me to use a blindness cane on campus.”
  • “I really don’t want to get hit by a car, and my cane lets other people know I can’t see well.”
  • If someone asks why I don’t have a guide dog- “I prefer to use a cane, but some students definitely prefer dogs.”
  • For a humorous explanation- “It keeps me from running into stuff, and it matches my outfit too.”

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Am I using the wrong kind of cane?

While I have several different blindness canes, all of them are collapsible with a large white tip and have a colored stripe on the end. A student in one of my freshman classes made a comment that I was using the “wrong” type of cane, and that my cane should be solid white and not be able to collapse. While the cane they described is very popular on TV shows with blind characters, I prefer to have a collapsible cane that I can easily store. My cane is the right kind of cane because it is the correct size for my height, has a strong tip, and helps me get where I need to go. All of the other details about appearance and aesthetics are irrelevant, and people should use whatever type of cane they like the best.

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Is this the wrong technique?

There are lots of different ways to use a blindness cane, from constantly touching the ground to only tapping it on occasion. While the advice of a certified orientation and mobility specialist (also known as a COMS) is invaluable, I tend to ignore other people who aren’t COMS and say that I am using my cane in a strange way or that I am using a cane differently than their friend or relative who also uses a cane. I’ve developed my own style of navigating with my blindness cane and can adapt it as needed for changes in my usable vision or neurological condition.

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Am I blind enough to be using a blindness cane?

This is a fun question I used to ask myself all the time, primarily because of all of the other questions that would race through my mind. I would wonder the following things daily, or even several times a day:

  • If I was even blind enough to be using a blindness cane
  • If the other people were right and I shouldn’t be using my blindness cane since I still have some vision
  • Thinking that anyone could pick up a blindness cane and learn how to use it easily
  • Worrying that people would eventually think I was faking my vision loss
  • If people with worse vision/less usable vision would judge me for using a cane

These are all classic imposter syndrome questions, and it took a while for me to be able to realize that:

  • I travel much better with my cane than I do without it
  • My cane allows me to visit my friends and go to places I normally wouldn’t be able to go by myself
  • I’ve learned a lot about how to use my cane over the years, and many people around me have no idea how to use a blindness cane properly
  • If anyone has doubts about my vision loss, I don’t need to prove myself by putting myself in danger
  • It doesn’t bother me if someone who has better vision than me uses a cane, as long as it is helpful for them

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If I can see that, do I really need a cane?

Another issue I have come across is that I can sometimes see certain objects, but not others. I have sometimes asked myself how I could see one thing but not another, and this bothered me until one of my friends told me that factors such as lighting, object size, and familiarity with surroundings can impact how much they can see or can’t see, and the same was true for me. This was incredibly reassuring, as I had previously questioned if my eyes or brain were playing tricks on me!

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Why I don’t take my cane everywhere

When people first started making comments about how I don’t take my cane everywhere, or saying that I didn’t really need a cane if I could walk a short distance without it, I tried doing the following things:

  • Walking without my blindness cane everywhere, which led to an injury.
  • Taking my blindness cane wherever people told me I should be taking it, which meant I took my cane on very short and pointless journeys such as to take out the trash or in my own apartment
  • Realizing that while my cane is an extension of my arms, it is not a permanent extension, and I can choose to use it or not use it as needed.

As you might have guessed, the third item was the best option for me, and has allowed me to stop second-guessing myself on whether I should use my cane because people not familiar with vision loss told me that I should be. This option has also been the most liberating and dramatically reduced anxiety surrounding using my blindness cane in my dorm and other familiar buildings.

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More thoughts on dealing with imposter syndrome around blindness canes

Am I blind enough to use a cane? Here is how I answer these and other questions that pop up related to imposter syndrome and using a blindness cane as a low vision college student