My First White Cane

My First White Cane
By BlindChristian

In the summer of 1991 or 1992, a bunch of us then working at the now defunct Turning Point Software (TPS, not to be confused with TPG) decided to hold a comrade’s bachelor party in Las Vegas. Being the organizational sort and designated cruise director for the gang we hung with in and out of the office, it fell to me to handle the arrangements.

So, I got us a block of rooms at the Riviera, plane reservations on the only non-stop from Boston to Vegas, fight tickets for Chavez versus Camacho and a few other tasks that elude me.

Like many people who have deteriorating vision, I felt some shame that I would sometimes need help and, more so, I didn’t want anyone to know of this ever worsening problem with my vision.

I still drank alcohol and used the odd illicit drug back then. Sometimes, when in a bar or restaurant, I would trip over something I couldn’t see. Instead of explaining to the bartender or other employee of the establishment and showing them my Massachusetts Commission for the Blind ID, I let them think I was drunk and accepted getting tossed out on my ass. I would much rather have been thought of as a drunk than a blink. I didn’t want any help and used drunkenness and other causes for doing something as a result of my bad vision. The humiliation of acquiring a disability caused me tremendous, albeit irrational, emotional pain so bad that I’d rather be thought of as a drunk, a drug addict, a public nuisance and anything else that people would accuse me of except blindness.

I went through extreme personal anguish during those last couple of years. I didn’t know of screen readers so I made my own crappy little tool for Macintosh. I thought it would be impossible for me to return to software engineering so I enrolled in a creative writing program at Harvard (a program I would quit when HJ made me an offer). Other than quitting the booze and drugs, and enjoying my classwork,very little seemed to go as I would have liked until the offer from Henter-Joyce.

The thought of blindness seemed so isolating and freaky that I couldn’t handle accepting it. I didn’t know any other blinks and made the assumption that most were shut ins who hid from the dangerous real world. No, I wasn’t going into the night of blindness without a fight that I was destined to lose.

The Vegas trip got me thinking about getting a cane. I knew that out there, I would need to hold onto elbows of our all male gang. Without a white cane in my hand, people may assume that my friends and I were gay. Herein lies a strange quandary: some of my friends are gay. I had lived in Greenwich Village for six years before the virus hit and was, therefore, emerged in gay culture. I would hang out with friends in gay bars and my band played a couple of gigs at the notorious Ramrod Club on West Side Highway. Homophobia, no way, not me?

Alas, I found that I would rather be seen as blind than queer – even though I’d flirt with gay friends and listen to Cher and Judy Garland records from time to time. The notion of being considered gay pushed me to make a handful of phone calls and found a place in the Boston area to buy a cane.

I never had any orientation and/or mobility training. How difficult it be, if I hit something solid, don’t walk there as we can’t occupy the same space at the same time. On one of my earliest ventures, I went to a Red Sox game (we had season tickets back then and I could sort of see well enough to keep track of the action) and, as I often did, I decided to walk back to our Cambridge home. On Prospect St. in Cambridge, a car was parked across the sidewalk and I missed it with my can and I came crashing into it.

The motorist yelled, “What are you, blind?”

I said, “Yes.” He saw the cane and I gave him my Commission of the Blind ID. He had identified himself as a cop so I got especially polite as I really didn’t want to spend a night in the clink.

My new cop friend offered me a ride home and I agreed with one provision: that I could ride in the front seat. I’d been in many a police car but always in the back and often handcuffed. He agreed. I then asked if I could play with the siren, he said, “No.” but did laugh.

The trip to Vegas went off really well. It’s a city where no one really cares how drunk, blind or gay you are as long as your money is green. After the trip, I was much more comfortable using the cane and accepting “blind” as a description of myself.

Still, though, when I reflect on those months leading up to my getting a cane, flashes of shame come back but they are accompanied by very funny memories of Vegas and other places where things grew amusing.

If you have deteriorating vision and want to know whether to get a cane and want to talk, you can find me on FaceBook, Twitter and elsewhere.


This article was written by BlindChristian who, for the most part, is actually me. The account above is entirely true as far as my recollection of some drunken nights can be. You can follow BlindChristian on twitter:

There also seems to be some confusion about where cdh/BlindChristian ends and Gonz Blinko begins among the twitter folks. Gonz, as always, is over the top, somewhat outrageous, paranoid and is purely a fiction. Gonz statements on twitter and elsewhere are intended to be amusing, outraging and just fun. I dig into weird parts of my creative mind to keep Gonz going.

If you want to follow Gonz on twitter,

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I'm an accessibility advocate working on issues involving technology and people with print impairment. I'm a stoner, crackpot, hacker and all around decent fellow. I blog at this site and occasionally contribute to Skepchick. I'm a skeptic, atheist, humanist and all around left wing sort. You can follow this blog in your favorite RSS reader, and you can also view my Twitter profile (@gonz_blinko) and follow me there.

3 thoughts on “My First White Cane”

  1. Thanks for sharing your story. I too had a hard time accepting that I needed to start using a cane. When I was a freshman in college, I made the decision that I would be safer using my cane, but I only used it at night. THis of course meant that I was relying on my bad vision during the day. Everyone knew I had bad vision, and I have been visually impaired my whole life, but using the cane somehow made my blindness more real and I didn’t want to deal with it. What is the cause of your vision loss? I have a form of RP.

  2. I once suggested to a lady friend that had very poor sight that she may want to consider using a white stick.

    She said yes, good idea but, living where I live, I would be mugged walking home each night as the stick would tell them they could get away with it.

    What a world we live in!

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