Today we celebrate National White Cane Day. Generally, the white cane has become the symbol we use to celebrate our independence and our acceptance that blindness is only a nuisance and characteristic, but not an obstacle in of itself. In reality, both the white cane and guide dog represent the same things. They give us a vehicle to help us travel and function independently in the world.
Sighted people have their own mechanisms to “help them”, although they do not acknowledge them as devices of reasonable accommodation and help. Just challenge a sighted person to travel around a building at night with no available light and see how well they do. The electric light, invented by Thomas Edison and others, is nothing but a reasonable accommodation for light dependent people.
We have learned to travel proudly with our canes and guide dogs. We have also been able to take advantage of other technologies such as Aira to give us much more information than we ever had access to before. However, make no mistake about it, the independence does not come from canes, dogs, or technology. It comes from within ourselves. We have to first believe in our own abilities and that simply because we are blind we have not lost any ability nor opportunity to live.
Blindness is not what holds me back. Yes, I am Mike Hingson and I happen to be blind. I cannot help that people call me “blind”. Society has not yet learned that we, like others, do not like to be pigeon-holed into a specific category. African Americans were called “colored”, “persons of color” and even “black” for years. Other races have experienced their own terminology which has been viewed, or today is viewed, as derogatory. I do not believe “blind” is derogatory, but most people implicitly or explicitly do so believe.
However, blindness can hold us back if we allow it to do so. We each need to learn how to live, function and move forward in our world. I do not accept that we who happen to be blind live in a “sighted world”. Yes, most people are sighted just as most people happen to have one skin color, or more are female than are male. We all live in the same world. That world should be inclusive and it is up to all of us to help make it so.
Blindness is not the problem. Instead, society’s attitudes toward us, and often our own attitudes toward ourselves, are the problem. Our white canes, guide dogs, and technology including Aira offer us opportunities to express our independence and determination to live in the world. It is up to us to use the opportunities we have to take advantage of the same things afforded to everyone.
No, blindness will not hold me back unless I permit it to do so. I will celebrate White Cane Day by traveling by car and air to Fort Dodge, Iowa to talk about blindness and work to show the world that I am as “normal” as anyone and that I demand the right to partake of whatever society has to offer.
In ending this let me present to you some of the words of the founder of the National Federation of the Blind, Dr. Jacobus tenBroek who, during the 1967 convention of the Federation in Los Angeles delivered a speech entitled “Are We Equal to the Challenge?”, which, incidentally, you may read here.
Dr. tenBroek said in part, “The blind have a right to live in the world. That right is as deep as human nature; as pervasive as the need for social existence; as ubiquitous as the human race; as invincible as the human spirit. As their souls are their own, so their destiny must be their own. Their salvation or failure lies within their own choice and responsibility. That choice cannot be precluded or prejudged; those lives cannot be predetermined or controlled.” As usual, Dr. tenBroek says it best. So, celebrate canes and dogs today. Go forth and live the life you want. You can do it.
Michael Hingson is a #1 New York Times Best-selling Author & Inspirational Speaker. His titles include Thunderdog and Running with Roselle. He recently visited and delivered a great talk at the Newbury Auditorium. You can view pictures from that event here. He is currently re-reading his favorite science fiction novel, The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, by Robert Heinlein.
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