Welcome to my Navigating College Campuses series, where I talk about all of the different ways I use Orientation and Mobility (O&M) techniques and my blindness cane as a student with low vision at my large public university. After spending four years living on my college campus, I’ve learned a thing or two about navigating in several different conditions and situations, and am so excited to share my tips and tricks with other students and future students. Today, I will be sharing my experiences with blindness canes and imposter syndrome, and how I get over insecurity around using my blindness cane on campus.
Some background on my cane experiences
I started using a blindness cane shortly before my first ever day of college, after my case manager from the Department of the Blind and Vision Impaired recommended that I start using a cane after they had observed me running into objects and having difficulty with navigating. I never had considered using a blindness cane prior to their recommendation, since I was able to navigate my high school with a human guide and was blissfully ignoring the fact my vision was getting worse over time. While I practiced using the cane in public a few times prior to starting college, I associate my first day of using my blindness cane independently with my first day living on my college campus three hours from home.
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Why do I need a cane all of a sudden?
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 by the time I started college, they remembered me and were confused over why I was suddenly using a blindness cane when I had been able to walk without one months or years earlier. Some people wondered if my vision had really changed or if I just wanted attention, and I found that the best way to explain this was to say that my vision was changing and will continue to change, and that the blindness cane would help me to navigate by myself so I wouldn’t have to rely on people to help me find things. Of course, no one is owed an explanation of my vision loss or why I choose to use a particular mobility aid, but I feel comfortable and safe giving this explanation.
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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 helpful for many different people, I prefer to have my 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 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
These are all classic imposter syndrome questions, and it took awhile 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
- If anyone has doubts about my vision loss, I don’t need to prove myself by putting myself in danger
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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!
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.
- 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.
Navigating college campuses can be tricky, but I’m so grateful to have my blindness cane to help me every step of the way. My blindness cane provides me the independence I need as someone with low vision and allows me to go all of the places I want to go on campus, all while keeping me safe from obstacles and safety hazards along the way. Whether you are new to using a cane or have used one your entire life, I hope this post is helpful for learning how to navigate your college campus, no matter what gets in your way!