A true story from my middle school days, I’m sharing the following story because I want to raise awareness of a very real issue that many people don’t consider:
Never touch a disabled person’s mobility tool. Whether that be a guide dog, a cane [as in this story], a wheelchair or any other type of mobility aid, it is for no one’s use except by the person it’s intended to support. And that is because it is not simply a piece of equipment or technology, but it is their access, their freedom, independence, mobility, safety and their means of communicating with and moving through the world.
But when that freedom and independence is compromised, it can wreak havoc and put that person in challenging and potentially dangerous situations. And more importantly, it takes away their autonomy.
There’s the moral of the story, even though we haven’t gotten to the story yet. So, without further ado…
I’m in the seventh-grade wing of my middle school, the halls blissfully clear and quiet now that class is in session. I’m on my way to the resource room, where I frequently work on projects one-on-one with my braillist. It’s just easier sometimes, especially in math and science when I need more specific adaptations or explanations of sighted concepts that are hard to understand. I don’t mind; anything to get out of a classroom of kids I’m not friends with.
The resource room is on the opposite side of the school, up a flight of stairs, down a ramp and past several twists and turns. But I know it forward and backward. I can walk it with my eyes closed, I think to myself, and I smile sardonically at my own blind joke.
And it’s a good thing, too, since I’m still in the hall by Mrs. George’s classroom when a boy slams into me, nearly knocking me to the ground. Where did he come from? There was nothing but a split second of pounding footfalls before the impact.
But before I can say anything, he’s gone.
I regain my balance, and notice that the quiet of the hall has returned as quickly as it was interrupted. I shake it off as best I can and grab my cane to begin walking to the resource room. But something is wrong. Very, very wrong.
The end of my cane, which has a rolling tip on it that rolls smoothly as I sweep my cane ahead of me from right to left, isn’t there. Instead of the smooth, bumping sound reverberating from the linoleum, there’s only an eerie nothingness. The tip isn’t touching the ground. It’s then that I reach forward, trailing my hand from the rubber grip top of the cane downward.
And then I see it. My cane is broken. Snapped in two like a twig. A carbon graphite twig. The lower half hangs limply from the string which is normally thread invisibly through the cane, holding it together.
I can’t use my cane like this! It’s physically impossible. And without a cell phone, or anyone in the hall, and no way to tell my braillist what’s happened, I take a step forward and am thankful I was taught how to keep myself safe as a kid before I got a cane. I hold my cane in the crook of my arm, and put one hand up to protect my face and the other in front of my belly button, and I start walking.
I shuffle through the halls–careful not to lift my foot in case of missing a drop off and POOF, down I go–up the stairs, down the ramps, and listen for the echo of the openness where the hallways intersect, and turn. I don’t pass anyone which I’m grateful for because I know this must look weird. What’s the blind girl doing now?
I make it to the resource room unscathed, my broken cane tucked under my arm. I work on my science project, then my braillist guides me out to the parking lot to meet my mom when the bell rings.
Then, we buy a new cane.