Strangers are blind to man’s affliction

Sorry I’ve left the previous downer of a post up for almost a week…..it’s just that time of year (not the time of year to panic about hypothetical parenthood, but the time of year that the blog gets sidelined).

Here’s a new column, but this is more for shock value than anything else…I don’t have much to say about it except “wow. Really? REALLY?”

DEAR ABBY: Several months ago, my husband — whose eyesight is fading rapidly — was forced to depend on a cane indicating that he is blind. Since then, we have encountered many individuals who have no idea what a red-tipped white cane means.

We have heard people say things like, “Isn’t that fancy!” or, “I love the way you decorated your cane for the Christmas season.”

Abby, please inform your readers that a white cane with a red tip is not a fashion accessory or a personal whim. Its purpose is to allow a vision-impaired person to move around independently. Vision impairment also affects a person’s balance. People have brushed past my husband, bumped into him and expressed annoyance because his slowness held them up.

I’m sure a “word to the wise” from you would make a decided difference. — NANCY IN LACONIA, N.H.

I just find this really hard to believe. I’m sure that this person would not have made the effort to send this public service announcement to Abby if she and her husband weren’t encountering this kind of ignorance, and if indeed they are, then trying to raise awareness is certainly an important and reasonable step to take.

I just really, REALLY can’t picture someone saying to a visually impaired person who uses a white cane to help him navigate, “I love the way you decorated your cane for Christmas.” What?? This is just really, really odd, especially since the way the visually impaired use the cane is not at all the same as someone who was using it for physical support (as a “leg to stand on”) would be.

It almost makes me think that, rather than strangers on the street, these are acquaintances whose shallow sense of familiarity with the person in question prevents them from realizing/noticing his gradual decline: whereas someone seeing him for the first time would likely recognize him as visually impaired, someone who has known him for awhile and thinks they understand his situation might be disposed to ignore or misunderstand how it has worsened in recent months. Or, alternatively, make awkward jokes about it, which might be another explanation.

Unfortunately, you’ll probably always have people who aren’t paying attention, or who are in a rush and will jostle and bump one another carelessly. I imagine this is a problem for anyone who is unsteady on their feet–although again, my understanding was that the whole idea of the cane was both to help the visually impaired person find his way, and also to act as a sign to others that he is legally blind and should be given the space to move along comfortably.

I know it doesn’t do any good for me to say “what’s wrong with these people??” and the woman who wrote this letter is taking the right course of action by trying to educate them, if indeed they’ve never heard of or seen a white cane being used. It all just seems very odd to me.

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One response to “Strangers are blind to man’s affliction

  1. I agree with you; these would HAVE to be acquaintances saying these things. I can’t imagine stopping anyone on the street and saying, “Oh, what a festive cane!” even if the cane was, in fact, festive!

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