You’d think that being blind all my life would mean that I would adapt easily to using a long cane wouldn’t you? Well you’re wrong, it took me years to find my independence.
I first had cane training (mobility training as it’s formally called) when I was at school. The training is done by a professional, called a rehabilitation worker. The rehabilitation worker taught me some cane techniques and in the following sessions we proceeded to do routes around my school, to my classrooms and other key places. Let’s just say, I absolutely hated the training. It wasn’t that I didn’t enjoy learning to use the cane, because that’s not true, I love learning new skills but there was something about it that filled me with dread, anxiety and a hatred towards this white cane. I don’t know fully what it was but I think there were a couple of contributing factors: one of them being the fact that I was using it for the first time around my school, the place where I spent 5 days a week and also I knew a lot of people and they’d see me with this thing and probably wonder what the hell I was doing?
The second being the negative thoughts that I was having, what would people think of me using a cane, was I standing out even more so than before, what if I bumped into them? Having mobility training isn’t something your average teenager does, unless they are blind or have a visual impairment. When you’re in your teens, you want to fit in, make friends, socialise with others…you get my drift. How the hell was I going to do that when I was lumbered with this thing? I felt like it made me look “blind” and during my teenage years, I most certainly wasn’t comfortable with my disability, I wasn’t confident and was most definitely not comfortable in my own skin. I also didn’t find the training sessions fun, I’m quite a motivated person so I’d have preferred to get out and about rather than being in the same environment. Obviously, I needed to learn the routes round my school, but I would have liked a variety of routes, have a change of scenery, rather than just the same building constantly.
Photos of Holly Turke from Life Of A Blind Girl, including her colourful blue cane.
Eventually, I got to grips with using the cane and things improved slowly.
Later on, I was then taught how to cross roads safely and independently. One of the major downfalls of this though was that I only learned the route between my home and my school so I didn’t really enjoy it. There wasn’t any option for me to learn other routes and do things that I wanted to do. I was proud of myself for achieving this goal and getting that far but I still wasn’t fully happy within myself using a cane. I didn’t use the cane around school and when I went out with my family and friends I didn’t use it as much as I should have, when you don’t like something it’s hard to motivate yourself to do it.
When I entered sixth form, I gradually became more confident and comfortable using a cane. I started to realise that it was my way of being independent; rather than relying on others. Granted, I wasn’t 100 % comfortable with the whole concept, but I was getting there.
When I entered my second and final year of sixth form I started applying for university, just like everyone else. When I was doing this, I knew that I wasn’t fully confident using a cane and knew that I needed to get myself into gear and needed to do something about it. I spoke to my parents about it, we spoke long and hard and did our research into different options and this is when I enquired about going to a specialist school for a short period of time. One of them got back to me and it was agreed that I would spend a week there in summer. During this week I had intense training on independent living skills and mobility training. Let me tell you, I learned more mobility skills during that week than I had ever done previously. I’m not saying that this is the right option for everyone because it was something that I enquired about myself, rather than a professional advising me to do that, but it was definitely a great experience for me. It really gave me the confidence boost that I needed. After attending mainstream school all the way through education, spending a week at a specialist school was rather interesting for me. I feel like that really set me up for starting university that upcoming September.
A few weeks before I started university I had mobility training around campus so that I knew where everything was, in order for me to be able to navigate to my lecture rooms and for me to have a good idea of the campus. I think this was really the turning point for me in terms of my mobility and being blind; I was far more confident using a cane and I genuinely felt comfortable using one; I wasn’t as bothered what people thought as it was my mobility aid and my way of getting around.
The rehabilitation worker was genuinely lovely and made it enjoyable which took away any anxiety that I had previously, she was very supportive and completely understood my worries. I think it also helped being surrounded by people that weren’t as bothered about my disability, compared to school, they cared but it didn’t faze them as it did others in school. There’s people from all walks of life at university and others that have the same or similar disabilities, there’s other people that are blind, so you’re not usually the only one in your institution. That positive mindset continued throughout my time at university and I don’t know where I would be now, if I hadn’t have gone to university and really found my independence.
Looking back, I think university was definitely the turning point for me. I found independence and I think that’s one of the most important skills for blind and visually impaired people to have. Not only did I get a degree, I also found my confidence and independence. Since becoming comfortable using a cane I’ve been on a plane on my own and continue to tackle the challenges of public transport on a regular basis. Without motivating myself to be independent I would not have got this far and I’m so glad that I found my confidence and independence.
It wasn’t easy, and it didn’t happen over night.
So how did I do it? I’m going to share the things that really helped me in the hope that they might help others as well, not just blind or visually impaired people learning to use a cane, but anyone with a mobility aid.
I surrounded myself with positive people.
My friends and family were extremely supportive, they didn’t push me, but they motivated me to keep trying and to carry on.
I didn’t surround myself with negative people, at the end of the day, my disability is part of who I am.
I tried to keep a positive mindset.
I did struggle with this, but now I know that this is key. Having a positive mindset really helps your confidence, motivation and all-round independence.
I found a cane that was right for me.
I wasn’t a fan of the standard white cane, so I decided to purchase a coloured cane. I know that there is a debate around this topic, but personally I think it’s all about personal preference.
I’m a girly girl so I found that having a coloured cane really helped to bring out my personality.
I eventually stopped caring what others thought and focused on myself and my independence.
Caring what others thought of me using a cane didn’t get me anywhere, but focusing on my independence got me a lot further.
I stepped out of my comfort zone.
Although this was and still is scary at times, stepping out of my comfort zone gives me a great sense of achievement.
I focused on the future.
There are so many things that I want to do, so many places I want to visit and I want to make something of myself and my life but how can I do all of this if I’m not independent? The answer is, I can’t. Focusing on the future gave me hope, motivation, determination and goals to work towards.
I finally believed in myself and my abilities.
This was the turning point for me, I finally realised that I could actually use a cane if I put my mind to it and knew that I was able to learn this skill. It’s a unique skill, one that I’m now proud of and I couldn’t live without it.
So that is how I found my independence. It’s ok to struggle but it’s important to work hard and push yourself.