Do Not Touch the Operator When the White Cane Is In Use – by Dick Barbuto
I have low vision. I easily qualify as legally blind. I use a white cane to get around. Got the picture? Before I go any farther I must tell you that I really don’t want to hear about your poor vision, or how your contacts aren’t comfy or how you need a new prescription. We’re talking BLIND here! OK?
But all is not lost. I get around perfectly fine. I can actually cross a street by myself and can sometimes cross while chewing gumJ. Don’t get me wrong, I like being helped. Who wouldn’t? But what I like even more is someone ASKING if I need help. You’d be surprised how many people will grab my arm and decide just to help me. Pay attention. That’s not helping. In fact, it may scare the c**p out of me. You may also get an unexpected (although involuntary) reaction from me.
Let me give you some examples. I was once standing at the bottom of an escalator in a train station listening to what train was leaving and where it was going. Someone grabbed my arm and said “I will help you” and started to haul me onto the escalator. I notified I him that I was quite all right. He insisted. It was only when I screamed that I was going to Brooklyn and not Manhattan that unhanded me. Somehow he was pissed. Go figure. Maybe I denied him his self award of good Samaritan points for the day. I repeat: I love help, let’s just make sure you’re really helping.
Another time I was walking in front of a flower shop. Apparently, the owner thought it was a good idea to display her flowers and plants on the sidewalk in front of her store. I was aware of this practice and occasionally would knock a small plant over, completely by accident, of course. On one occasion while walking by the store, I was pulled off the sidewalk, without notice, by a person helping and I tripped. Falling is not helpful.
Anyway, I live in a little different world than you do. It’s not a bad world at all – just different. So before you decide to be all helpful to the blind guy, please remember – do not touch the operator when the white cane is in use. Thank you. Carry on.
Do you remember when you were a kid, ice cream was always associated with something good. There were all kinds of things that you could think about in connection with ice cream: when getting your tonsils out (OK, not everything was good) your parents told you could have all the ice cream you wanted, great desserts always included ice cream, special occasions – there was ice cream. The list goes on and on.
I don't know what happened to those days but it seems to me they are not quite the same as they used to be. Let me explain. Some time ago, I was out walking and tapping away with my white cane. I was paying attention and I was on the side walk. And yes, I was also listening to an Ipod. Carrie Underwood was playing. The next thing I knew I was hit by a car, lifted off my feet and deposited halfway across the street. As this was happening, three things went through my mind. One was that I had a fiberglass cane and was it going to break and stab me. The second was would the driver of the car realize she has hit someone and stop rather than running over me. And lastly I wanted to know who the driver was that hit me? Well, the cane didn’t break, I was not run over and the identity question was solved when the diver got out of the car (it was a neighbor). I was shaken up but there were no significant physical injuries. As I was laying on the street all kinds of neighborhood people came out to see what was going on and to minister to me, should that be necessary. Somebody went and got my wife who drove to where I was in case I had to be taken to the hospital. I didn't. Generally speaking, everything was cleared up within 15 minutes or so. As I was leaving to get into our car the person who hit me asked “What kind of ice cream do you like?” I took this to be a very good sign. I told her chocolate fully expecting that by the end of the day there would be, at the very least, a lot of chocolate ice cream coming my way!
That night woman that hit me called to see how I was feeling and I told her I was OK and not to worry. I was being very gallant and I was picturing a large ice cream cake in my future. Never happened.
What did happen was that I tried to figure out what caused the mishap. I am convinced that it had a lot to do with the fact to the driver did not have a real car. She was driving a Prius, one of those hybrid cars. I could not hear it! Now, I am all for being green and all but remember those cars don't make any noise to speak of. Blind people use all kinds of senses to help compensate for not being able to see.
As time went by (without ice cream) what I did get was a sense of not wanting to walk outside anymore.
Now admittedly I was wearing headphones and listening to music but it wouldn't
have mattered anyway. Maybe three weeks went by and I kept telling everybody I was fine but I wasn’t. Finally to might utter dismay, I realized that I was afraid to walk outside. Perhaps I should have anticipated this. Think about it, getting hit by a car is never any fun. Getting hit by a car that you can’t see is even less fun and getting hit by a car that you can’t see or hear tends to really suck.
Eventually I did begin to walk again. I even found a stereo earbud which leaves one ear open to listen to the sounds around you. I recommend this type of device for people who like to walk or ride a bike. It is far safer than having earbuds or earphones over both ears. Another thing that I learned is that it is okay to be afraid, especially if something good comes from it. Use the fear to learn things and to help you better understand yourself, and perhaps others.
Finally, I am still available to eat chocolate ice cream cake. It is never too late!
It Pains Me . . .
By Dick Barbuto
One of my previous posts dealt with people who were not sure how to treat people with disabilities i.e., people who wanted to be helpful but were not sure how to best accomplish that. Here I will attempt to discuss relationships (or the lack thereof) with friends who cannot “handle” disabilities. These people sometimes become former friends or friends that you longer spend much time with. (For all you grammarians I am advised that it is now permissible to end a sentence with a preposition.)
Let me tell you about two friends who had very strong reactions to my loss of sight. A little background may be useful. I have low vision and use a long white cane to get around. This is the result of diabetic retinopathy which caused severe vision loss about 9 years ago. The first friend, we’ll call him A is also diabetic. The second friend, B, had a wife who also has diabetes. I don’t know if the fact that both had their lives influenced by diabetes is significant or not. I point it out because I suspect that it does. Maybe someone much smarter than I am can supply an answer to that one.
Shortly after my vision loss I dined with A at a local restaurant. During the meal A decided to tell me that “it pains me to see you like this.” (I wasn’t too happy about the vision loss either in case you read this, A.) And let me be clear, during this and subsequent conversations it became clear that A was looking at this not in the sense that he felt badly for me but rather, that my situation was difficult for him to handle. Eventually, we no longer talked on the phone or got together socially, with rare exception. When we did see one another it was fairly obvious that he was still “pained.”
I was extremely friendly with B and had been for 25 of the 30 years that I knew him. We worked in the same office for years, shared season tickets to the Jets, traveled and socialized with our spouses and most people knew us to be extremely close.
Unfortunately when I lost most of my vision things changed radically. B stopped calling. He infrequently took my calls and when I left him a message (numerous times) he almost never called back. Even more importantly, we did not see one another for the last five years of his life. B passed away about 3 years ago.
With A, I was mildly disappointed for about 5 minutes that he was “pained to see me with visual issues. With B, I was really pissed off. I went to the funeral services for B. Many people remembered some very funny stories about things that B and I had done in the past and some told me B was always telling people what a great guy I was. I kept my mouth shut but wanted to ask how he knew, not having seen me and all for 5 years.
What does all this mean? I’m not sure I know. As I look back on the 2 relationships I should have handled them in a different fashion. I should have tried to let both A and B know that I could still do everything (OK, I can’t drive) that I did before and I was the same guy. I wish that I had done that. I am still pissed off and maybe I wouldn’t be if I had been a little more ready to explore these situations.
So I guess the good news is that I have learned from these experiences. I now have a lot of new friends. What’s that about when one door closes another opens?
When I was growing up I occasionally saw people using a long white cane. I am not sure how I came to know that the person was blind but somehow I did. I also thought that anyone who used one of these canes was totally blind. I now use a long white cane and I am not totally blind. In fact, one study I read claimed that that 70% of long white cane users have some vision. Who knew?
I find these devices to be an indispensable tool that I use every time I leave my home. It is a simple device, really. It is nothing more than a stick (that’s what it is called in my home) that is white and in the U.S often times has red at the bottom. Sometimes the red is a circle. In Europe it will sometimes have two red circles meaning that the user has both vision and hearing issues.
As you might imagine the canes come in varying lengths with different kinds of tips and handles.
Orientation and mobility (O & M) experts have differing views as to how long the cane should be but generally agree that it should come up to your armpit at a minimum. Long time users of white canes often find that as they purchase subsequent canes that they get longer canes as that gives them more reach/extension in front of them. And, of course, the cane tip should be compatible with the terrain that you are working on.
White canes are also a huge benefit to others as well. Being able to identify people that have low vision or are blind is extremely helpful in interacting with blind people and, of course, the benefit to the white cane user is enormous.
There are a variety of white canes that can easily be found online. The reader should also know that the National Federation of the Blind has a free white cane program which you may find out about and take advantage of by going to www.nfb.org.
October 15 is “White Canes Safety Day” as the result of a Congressional Resolution signed into law by President Lyndon Johnson on October 6, 1964. On that day, and every day, embrace and celebrate the long white cane. Talk a walk!
Those of us with low vision or blindness collect information about our environment differently from sighted people. That stands to reason when you consider that we have one less sense to rely on.
I often hear that people without vision or who have low vision have their other senses enhanced. Let me put that to rest. Other senses are not improved. Rather, we just rely on and use them differently. A couple of examples may help to explain this.
When I walk on a quiet street I can generally hear traffic even if I cannot see it. Now add someone cutting the grass with a power mower. The sound will oftentimes mean that I cannot hear the traffic. As a result I sometimes take a different route when someone has the unmitigated gall to cut their lawn while I am walking. Speaking of traffic, all you Prius owners should get a real car. I know you think you are all cool being green and such but you piss me off. I cannot hear your damn car! Forget the environment. This is about ME. And for those drivers who do not pull up to the stop lines thinking you are helping when I am waiting to cross the street, think again. I want to know where you are. I don’t trust you anyway so as least be sporting and let me know where you are lying in wait idling. Another difference in collecting info is when we go up or down stairs. A sighted person sees the stairs and automatically knows where the handrails are, the approximate number of stairs, where the landings are, whether or not there is an obstruction on the stairs, etc. This info is usually collected and processed in less than a second.
I deal with stairs with the use of a long white cane. With the cane I will know when I come to stairs and how to go either up or down them. I can do this through my senses of feel (through the cane) and hearing the sounds that the cane makes going up or doesn’t make, going down. Obstructions are a little harder but not impossible. Occasionally people will decide to sit on, oh say, subway or train stairs. These stairs are not park benches where you and your friends can sit and amuse one another. To the person that I recently hit in the head with my long white cane, it was not an accident. And when I said I was sorry I didn’t mean it. Keep out of the way, will you please! I have enough trouble without having to fear tripping over your idle butt.
If you are blind or have low vision you just have to get a long white cane to assist you with your orientation and mobility. You could get a dog but that’s a whole other deal. Any questions?
Ten Fun Things.
There are some fun things about vision loss or impairment that you should know about.
1. Everyone looks great. Women are beautiful and men are handsome. Wailing children are not great unless you are also deaf.
2. You can barge into a room and become the immediate topic of conversation.
3. If people do not move when you barge into the room you can hit them with your long white cane with virtual immunity.
4. When you go to the airport make sure you have your white cane and look confused. In extreme cases bump into things. This will often result in a representative of the airline taking you to the front of the line. This will also get you on the plane first thereby insuring a spot for your luggage.
5. Make the political correctness people crazy. When I lived in NY I would often go to a popular deli for coffee. The owners would simply say “next” to wait on the next person in line. I never knew if I was next or not so I told the counter people to just refer to me as “blind guy” as in “blind guy you’re next.” This would often make some sensitive type go nuts yelling things such as ”how can you say that” and the like. It was fairly entertaining and I sometimes got free coffee out of the deal.
6. Make fun of organizations that have really stupid slogans. One organization I know of has something like "if properly trained low vision can be nothing more than a nuisance." This was clearly written by a sighted person. These organizations should be made fun of at every opportunity.
7. Sometimes when people talk to me they will speak up in a loud voice. I tell them I am blind, not deaf. This should be done in a nice way so as not to embarrass anyone. Odds are you will both be laughing about it in a minute or two. Laughing is always fun.
8. Entitle a blog 10 fun things and then only write nine. People will say “well he’s blind you know” as if that had anything to do with it.
9. See The Scent of a Woman. Al Pacino is great in the final scenes. Actually, he was great throughout the movie. I think he got the academy award for best actor.
OK, OK. This is meant to be lighthearted. But the point is not to wallow in the valley of gloom and doom. Laugh at yourself and laugh with others. Above all let’s all remember rule 6 and we can all have a laugh. Nuisance indeed!
When a person suffers from a disability/impairment/issue (or whatever the correct term is these days) there is a tendency to feel that all must somehow accommodate you. After all, you’re the one with the disability, right? Wrong.
Having a disability means that you must also take the time and extend the effort to let those around you know what is going on in your world and, for you to realize how your disability is affecting them as well. It’s not all about you, and you better realize that this business of living requires some work and education. With or without a disability, life is a two way street.
Now let me say this: some people just will not be able to “handle” your disability. I am not talking about those people. That is a very different post. I am referring to the people who simply do not know what to expect from you in every day situations, how to react to your actions or how to be helpful generally. You have to educate them just as you educated yourself about your disability. I cannot tell you how many times friends have said to me “what am I supposed to do when . . . ?” They simply do not know and why should they? I usually tell people that if I need any help I’ll let them know. This is good for you and assists them in dealing with you. Be aware that, even after you say something like that, people are going to tell you that you are coming to a curb or stairs etc. Don’t get angry or throw a hissy fit. Thank them and be happy that you are surrounded by people who care enough to assist you in your mobility. I used to get annoyed with people who continually tried to give me unsolicited help after I asked them not to. How stupid was that? (If any have read any of my other posts you will already know that I can be remarkably stupid.) Any time someone offers aid to, you be grateful. This is generally a good rule regardless of whether or not you are disabled. You can tell them you are OK but be sure to thank them for their concern.
One of the things that surprised me when I began using a long white cane was how many people did not realize it was an international symbol of blindness/low vision. Again, why should they? I don’t remember how I became aware of this fact and no one seems to know how they did either. I guess the point is not everyone will know. One of my canes has a golf grip and a large roller ball for a tip. Apparently, at a quick glance one restaurant patron asked me why I was bringing a golf club into the restaurant! My wife assures me that the guy looked serious.
Last thing for now. Your disability affects others. When people ask me what my biggest regret is about not having good vision I tell them that I regret the burdens it places on my wife in our everyday life. Her life has been impacted every bit as has mine. Keep that in mind. I did not sign up to be blind. She did not sign up to be married to a blind person. It’s not all about you.
This article is a compilation of things that have happened to me while eating in restaurants. You would think that might be a review of some of the things regarding accessibility that are governed by federal and state law. Nothing could be further away. I would like to address in a humorous way some of the problems that confront people with low vision while eating in a restaurant.
The easiest part is getting into the restaurant especially now that you are all using the long white cane. The harder part comes after you sit down and start to get down to the business of actually eating. In the part of the country where I live, typically the restaurants are not well lit and have a dark decor. I am told that in many of the restaurants the windows are darkened which is to keep the heat out. I'm not sure I believe that (I thought that's why they were using air-conditioning) but I have heard it enough times so that I will run with it here. What that actually does is make the restaurant even darker to a person that has low vision. Well, okay you say, but what about lights. What about them? If the real reason for going dark is to keep the restaurant cool, why would you expect they will brightly light the room? The next thing that you will have to deal with is the inevitable dark furniture. So what you say. Well, try and pick out silverware that is wrapped in a dark napkin on a dark brown table. The likelihood is that you will be able to get around this issue just-in-time to figure out that you are not going to be able to read the menu. Maybe somebody at the table will be kind enough to read it to you because you can be sure that the wait staff is not going to be helpful. Just last week I was ordering a baked potato. The person taking my order asked me if I wanted it "loaded?" When I asked him what that meant he told me to read it in the menu. I told him that I had a vision problem which apparently affected his breathing because I was then treated to a long sigh. I then further told him that if I wanted to have it read I would've asked someone but seeing as how he had probably said what a loaded baked potato was five or 6,000 times, that doing it my way might be faster. I also wondered if he might "see" his tip flying away. After having a conversation that rivaled the Vietnamese peace talks I finally got my order in.
But, I have skipped a step. One of the critical parts of eating out is what to order. For people with low vision this is not just a question of what you like or what looks good but there is also the issue of how easy it is to eat. Parenthetically, I prefer food that is stabable. For example, it's easier to get meat on a fork than lettuce. For people with good vision try shutting your eyes and eating a salad. Didn't think of that one did you?
Now you've picked out what you’re going to have to eat and while you are waiting for the dish you will be invited to drink something. I usually have a Diet Coke which of course, is a dark color and often times served in a colored glass. Seeing a pattern here? If you can't see where the waitperson puts a glass, you can always ask someone or slowly paw around the table until you come across the drink which may, however, result in what I refer to as "the first accident." I remember once when a waitperson brought Coke to me, placed it down and told me that my drink was at 12 o'clock meaning the top of my dish. I wanted to fund her college tuition or at least buy her a car.
Eventually, you will come to the main event, also known as eating. If you have paid attention what you have ordered and done so wisely, this can be relatively uneventful. With some practice you might even finish your meal without "the second accident." The one thing you will not do is finish your meal at the same time as any of your table mates. Desserts, being what they are, must be the subject of a different article. There are just so many ways to get into trouble when eating dessert.
Eating out is probably not as difficult as I have made it seem but I sometimes think that dealing with issues in a humorous fashion is the best way to go. So the next time you go out to eat think of some of these things and have a chuckle for yourself. If anyone asks you why you are laughing, tell them that you just realized for the 1,000th time that sometimes funny stuff comes out of unfunny situations.
Note: I write this stuff because I I enjoy it. I do not get paid for this. I say this because Enhanced Vision makes some highly rated portable magnification/illumination products that can be very helpful in many situations, such as reading a menu. Take a look at the Pebble and Mini-Pebble. They can be found on other pages of the Enhanced Vision website.
I am a 65 year old retired criminal defense lawyer who has low vision due to diabetic retinopathy. I have no vision in my left eye and on a good day the vision in my right eye is only awful.
Approximately nine years ago I awoke and I could not see out of my left eye. Incredibly, I did not rush to an eye doctor but rather assumed this was some type of temporary thing that would go away in a day or two. Did I mention that I am not a doctor of any type? Did I mention that sometimes I can be remarkably stupid?
Three days later I finally went to my optometrist who had been prescribing my glasses for years. Very shortly into his exam he left the room and called a retinal specialist who agreed to see me right now. I went to his office and was diagnosed with a central artery occlusion. I was examined by his partner the next day who confirmed the diagnosis and that it meant I was not going to have vision in that eye again. Oh, by the way, did I tell you that at the time I was a smoker? Not a heavy smoker, less than a pack a day. So, of course, I stopped smoking immediately, yes? Well actually, no. Go back to the part about remarkable stupidity.
I was in a very high stress occupation. I tried cases all the time and also did appeals. Most of my cases were murder cases and some were very high profile. I decided that smoking reduced my stress levels and besides, I had lost vision in one eye. Surely I was not going to be the one who lost vision in both eyes. Wrong again.
Let’s flash forward another year. I was living in New York at the time and I was trying a murder case in Virginia. As the trial ended I was having problems seeing from my right eye. By the next day I could not drive and my vision was severely impaired. You will be happy to know that at this point I stopped smoking. Nothing like closing the barn door after the horse has left, right?
I found a retinal surgeon who treated me for the next seven years including 6 eye surgeries and more laser treatments than I care to think about. And let’s not forget all the injections into my eye. I am telling you, you have not lived until you have had stitches in your eye.
Why am I writing this? Because I did not take care of myself and I thought that this stuff always happens to someone else. It would never happen to me. It is one thing to know what you are supposed to do but I want people to understand that this can happen to you. Take care of yourself and make sure you treat your eyes like the treasures they are. Don’t be stupid!