This article Iis divided into categories, so if one sounds boring, just skip to the next subtitle, I promise it gets more interesting as you go along…
Introduction To The Cane:
Today, I went to EnAble India for training in mobility. going there was easier than a walk in the park for me, I had the support of my mother, who I joked was my “fat cane”, who could drive me to the building, walk me in, and sit there until I was done, at least for the initial week. I have been there for about a week.
On the first day, my trainer, Geeta H.S., who is also visually impaired, showed me how to use the cane. The parts of the cane are as follows; the top, which has an elastic band, which I used to loop around my wrist. The middle is called the shaft, and the end the tip. The cane is white, and folds into 2, 3, 4…depending on height.
The cane is held in a fist, with the index finger guiding it. In only two days, I was able to find my way around the building with my eyes closed. The hand holds the cane at the stomach level, and the wrist moves in two ways…in an arc, which involves tapping the cane from left to right. The other is used indoors, where the cane tip moves from side to side, not leaving the ground, as the cane makes a tapping sound when it hits the ground, which can disturb people. The ground indoors is also smooth; therefore, one can glide rather than tap. Both movements are made at the distance between two shoulders.
The cane is held together by elastic, and costs R.S.100, but the training at EnAble India is completely free. Apart from teaching mobility training, computer classes are also conducted.
Though located on a narrow, busy road, the training for mobility is done outside the institution. I was taught how to climb a flight of stairs (with the cane held like a pen, dangling) pre-cane skills included keeping your hand a few inches away from your forehead, and the other diagonally at the stomach, in order to avoid hitting things at both levels. Trailing involves running the hands along the walls.
Need For Encouragement:
On the fifth day, I was told to leave the building, which I put off, as I was simply too afraid to walk on that horrible road. My mother refused to allow the trainer to take me out, so I practiced in the building, which I was already able to walk around in, without a cane. Even. So I was quite bored. I guess the pointlessness of the endeavour showed on my face, and I was glad it did, as what happened has inspired me to write all of this.
The computer classes had just ended, and Geeta called around four mobility-trained blind students, and along with me, the six of us formed a rough circle. The four of them, Noor Jahan, Dhanya, Mahandra and Neetu, told me about the daily problems they faced, and how they had more or less come to terms with them. I have acquired their on-the-spot permission before writing this.
The first to speak was Dhanya, a girl of roughly twenty five, who had recently lost her vision due to a neurological problem, a condition similar to mine. Perhaps it was the similarities between us, or the way she told her story, or possibly how hard her life had become after she had become visually impaired, where as mine had only changed in terms of independence and freedom.
Dhanya, who lived in Kerela, had a supportive family, she and her brother were very close, and her family was proud of their beautiful daughter. After being struck by an unknown neurological problem, she lost her sight. Her life changed drastically. At first, the family support was given without a second thought. She would hold her father’s or brother’s hand and go everywhere.
Things started going downhill when the questions began to pour in. social norms are different in smaller cities. In India, people know each other and don’t hesitate to ask passer-bys personal questions, or comment on out-of-the ordinary occurrences. People would stop her father and ask about his daughter when spotted walking along the road, hands linked. A detailed explanation would be demanded, followed by a sympathetic sentence or gesture. “Why has god done this?” Or “such a beautiful daughter, now how will she get married?” Or the clichéd “don’t worry, things will be okay”, something I have heard so many times. I sometimes retort, “no, they won’t, but that’s okay”
At first, her family members would go through the routine of explanation and patiently listen to the sympathetic comments of strangers. But this monotonous and embarrassing occurrence began to greatly affect Dhanya’S freedom, her confidence and the family’s behaviour towards her.
They stopped taking her out. She would spend hours alone at home, helpless and stranded. Her house was now her prison. She told us she felt alone and abandoned, “Like an animal, my family began to hate me”
In family functions, where all members were required to attend, the family would grudgingly bring her along, but after showing her face, they would banish her into an empty corner, or if possible, a dark room. She remembers sitting there for hours, waiting. She related to us the incident, when she was dying of thirst and she heard her brother, and begged him for water. Not wanting to be troubled, he told her he was on the phone and walked away. “I came to know a thing or two about human nature on that day” she remarked sadly.
Incidents like this caused her to fall gradually into depression. “Why am I alive?” she thought. She was frustrated with life and tried to end it all, but the will to live within her was strong, and made her determined to somehow become independent.
At around this time, she learnt about EnAble India and the mobility training it offers. She decided to travel to Bangalore though her family was dead against it. The fact that she was using a cane instead of taking the help of a family member would not look good to the world, and they were worried about the family’s honour. But she was determined to be independent, and finally, her brother and her left for Bangalore, and are living here for some time now.
Dhanya describes her training as a very slow process. She was a slow learner, and would refuse to move at times, and she walked very slowly. Today, however, she says, with laughter in her voice, that she walked to the recharge shop and recharged her phone all by herself, with her trusty cane, hence, depriving her brother of his twenty rupee tip.
The story of Mahandra is of a carefree, jovial and fun-loving youth. He lost his sight, but refused to use the cane, a sentiment I’m fully familiar with. He was terrified of being singled out of the crowd, or being looked upon with pity, or recognized by the few relatives he had in Bangalore. Being originally from Chennai, he used to live with his uncle and took the support of his friends when he had to go out. Almost three years later, when he was sick of the continuous dependency, he forced himself to get over the social fear and learnt to use the cane at EnAble India. He told us, with what could have only been a sheepish grin,” the cane are now my eyes, it is my friend, my wife, my life.” Mahindra now travels across the city with the help of his cane. He uses the local bus, walks around and goes to eateries and shopping malls. “I can’t believe that the one thing I hated is now my saviour” he says, humbly.
Noor Jahan and Neetu’s Story
Next, It was Noor Jahan’s turn to tell her side of the story. She was a girl from a small town, blind from birth. She moved to Bangalore, and is now independent and can use the computer to its full advantage.
Neetu was the last one in the group to speak. She told us that she, too was blinded recently, but she, like me, had a family that supported her. She has now acquired a job at Accenture, a very famous I.T. company. When she was blinded, her father was very distressed, despite this, he immediately found out what she should do about her future. “his efforts have definitely paid off” says Neetu, pride in her voice. Her father found EnAble India and she has learnt everything she needed to cope with her life there.
It has been almost two months since that week, and since then, I have come a long way. I now can walk on the road, (main road, even, with no shoreline) cross smaller ones, and hopefully, find out which building I want to go into, from ‘clues’. I have walked on several kinds of roads, as one is spoilt for choice around the training centre and the main office, the two places I’m practicing from. Roads without shorelines (footpaths), roads with a row of cars, motorcycles, and even buses, roads with piles of leaves, stones, trees, mud…I’ve done it all. Especially the uneven, uphill road with sudden ditches and craters, which is an uphill and downhill climb, is especially difficult.
The things I find really difficult are finding turnings, walking straight in the middle of the road, finding out where the cross-roads are and also knowing where I am. In order to find a building. When things are noisy, or my concentration is divided between walking, like for example, walking and talking, or listening to someone or something like that, I am less able to manage by myself.
A Lesson in Dealing With Nosy People
A lesson on dealing with society was unintentionally given, as well. It was almost like my trainer had planned it all, it was so unreal. I had practiced for almost a month at the training centre. I knew almost all the basic rules, stick to the left side of the road, wait until there is no sound of a vehicle before crossing a road, raise your hand before beginning to cross, keep walking even if a car suddenly seems to be coming towards you (very, very scary) and how I should never hesitate to ask anyone for help (easier said than done) I joked to a friend that raising my hand looked like I was enacting how I answer my attendance.
My training centre had moved to the main office of EnAble India, and I was walking off the side of the main road I had never walked on before. It was a bright and sunny day, the worst weather for my vision. I was using the cane to walk, as usual, when a woman streaked something in Kannada, the local language of Karnataka, which, though I have been living in for twenty two years, have never been able to learn. My trainer, Geeta, told me that she was freaking out about the cane, saying “She’s blind, she’s blind.” I was quite embarrassed. At least she went away, I was glad. But things were about to get much worse. A man approached us and began to interrogate Geeta.
“What has happened to her?”
“She can’t see”
“What is she doing outside. Then?” he demanded. An edge in his voice.
“She is training, I’m her trainer”, Geeta said, calmly. I was getting more irritated. This was reminding me of Dhanya, and I had thought, when she was telling me about those nosy people in Kerela, that if I was in her place, I would have told off those people. Now I was in her place, and I found it was a very difficult one to be in. however, I wanted to stick to my words, so when the man said, “training? On the main road?” incredulously, with reproach in his voice, I could not hold my tongue any longer.
“Yes,” I told him, “I am on the main road. And I know I am. If I wasn’t okay with walking here, I wouldn’t. no one is forcing me to be here, I am training here by choice, so you needn’t worry” the tone I used was highly sarcastic. Maybe it was going too far? Could he help it if he was such a curious soul? Anyway. Though I couldn’t see his face, I knew he was insulted, and went away, saying “thank you very much” in an equally sarcastic tone. Oops. At least we had gotten rid of him, though I’m sure he was saying something like “I’m glad you can’t see, you deserve it” or something like that.
If this much wasn’t enough, a watchman, on realizing my condition, instantly appointed himself my guardian angel. Though he didn’t ask any difficult questions, he was as bad as the previous one, though his sin wasn’t curiosity, but helpfulness. He failed miserably in his ‘good deed of the day.’ In fact, if led only by him, I would have been standing in the middle of the road. We were facing opposite directions, and he would say “left” when I was supposed to go right, and visa versa, and Geeta would say “right”. So I had two people telling me to go different directions at the same time. I get distracted easily, so I froze and tried to listen to Geeta’s instructions, who told me to ignore the watchman, who just spoke louder. I began to wonder if he had a sadistic side to him, after all. Luckily, after we passed him by, he didn’t rise up from his seatgn and attempt to help any further, or else I would have told HIM OFF, AS WELL. Thus, ended my training of the day, as well as an introduction of how people will react to me when they see me walking around with a cane. I used to always hold my companion’s hand and walk around, and no one lifted an eyebrow. They probably thought I couldn’t walk properly, or something. They never asked.. Now,I said to myself, welcome to ‘the world of the cane’
To the post office and back
It has been almost four months since I have started my mobility training. I have moved from walking around in a small room to travelling to the post office every day. I think that’s an achievement, but my trainer doesn’t think so. She has told my mother and brother that they are no longer allowed to join us, as she believes that they provide me with a sense of security I must not get too familiar with, especially if I truly want to be independent. In these past months, I have moved from ‘anti-cane mode’ to the ‘cane mode’, the latter i employ in training, where I am facing the outside world without any social pressure about who is watching me, and what they will think when they see the cane, to the former, where I’m hyper-ventilating about even bringing the cane.
Barking dogs, parked vehicles and nosy people are the most common irritants I face on my daily training routes. I have always loved animals, particularly dogs, but when these friendly, domestic animals bark and growl, I can’t help picturing a rabid dog, teeth barred, saliva dripping from its mouth, a menacing glint in its eye, running towards me, ready to pounce. The rattle of the gate is the most reassuring sound in these situations, though my heart still pounds until I know I am a safe distance away.
I recently encountered a particularly disagreeable car on my way to the post office. It just stood there, innocently, until I touched it with my cane. The car burst out in a loud protest, complete with police and ambulance sirens, plunging the relatively silent street into the catastrophic atmosphere of an urban crime scene.i froze, and my trainer told me to ignore the noise, and continue, so I turned my back to the car, and pretended like nothing had happened, the sirens fading with distance. On my way back, I did not have another embarrassing incident, as my arch enemy had fled, ‘with its tail between its legs’ I imagined, with morbid satisfaction..
Help me cross the street, NOW!
I think this, as I stand on the main road, and try to find a person who will help me cross, but if you can’t see, how will you ‘find’ anyone? My trainer does this for me, and I cringe with unease, especially when some refuse. Generally, the victims of this question are people I can hear, like a conversing couple, a large lively group, or a person on their mobile phone. Them, or someone with a broken slipper. Now, take your pick…you don’t want to ask anyone of them, do you?
Where the hell am i?
The biggest problem I face is knowing where I am. When there is no sidewalk, how does a blind person figure out what is a straight line? It’s something you have to learn, and I am terrible at it. Especially when there is no shoreline (footpath), I begin to drift towards the middle of the road. My trainer warns me, though, and I haven’t died yet, right?
How do you find a house? You first familiarize yourself with the gate, the porch, and the road it’s on. If in doubt, go up to the building’s gate and feel around. So if you see a person with a white cane, feeling up your gate, don’t panic, they are just trying to figure out whether this is the house they are looking for. Preferably, ignore them.
How do you know that there’s a cross-road? The cane tells you, the ground feels different. Though, it is very hard for me to figure out. I prefer to use my ears to detect a vehicle turning off, or the trusty pole that’s at the end of most cross-roads,boards, ditches, and smells help us figure out where we are placed, even if I still don’t know what straight is.
enable India keeps a file of all the candidates. To show other people interested, a day was kept aside for a photo session, where a camera-man took shots of me in training. I have never looked more artificial in my life, and I pray that those photos never see the light of day. Perhaps, if I practiced some poses…
A few days ago, I finally managed to make the trip to the post office, three out of three times, without any problems. Asking people for help to cross the road has become easier. I somehow only choose users of strong and fragrant deodorants wait—that’s hardly a mystery. A good Ax advertisement, many I have told have commented.
Asking people is difficult, even more so, as you aren’t an old lady with a walking stick, who can bend her back, and look at you beseechingly, but, to society, you present a formidable figure, who is difficult to approach. If for no other reason, because they sometimes have an image of the blind as someone violent, and the cane, if used is a weapon… Some have just seen too many misleading movies, where the blind person is the mastermind of some evil scheme, or else is actually a sighted person who uses the cover to steal.
I have felt more than half the people tremble whilst holding my hand, cursing themselves for accepting my request to help me cross, probably as at that time, they feel the burden of being blind.
I know it sounds implausible, but that’s the truth. They are solely responsible for you for those few seconds. They realize that if they aren’t careful, for themselves as well as the blind, they can easily be in danger, and it will be solely the helper’s fault,.
And, of cause, the old woman has the luxury of being able to choose her helper. Will it be the cute ten-year-old boy, or the young, pretty lady? We will never know how our helper looks, well—the completely blind, anyway. They’ll only be able to figure out if they are male or female. I can generally figure out most of the details about these people
Now coming to the biggest problem regarding people, where are they? One can’t just shout out “help me!” on the road. Probably, above the noise of the vehicles, they won’t even hear you. “Listen to the sounds” says Geeta, my trainer. “Hear that slap-slap of those chappals? Or the swishing of a skirt?”
“but these sounds are so soft!” I wail. How am I supposed to hear them with these idiots horning in my ear?”
I finally squint at the shadows moving to and fro.
“Um…uh…” I work up the courage, but before I can say more, they have gone.
Some helpful souls purposely walk slowly, anticipating the question. They really want to be of assistance, bless them; a soft clearing of the throat can instantly bring them to your side.
“Yes?” you can actually hear the enthusiasm in their voice. Things will always go smoothly from there. After you have crossed, they will direct you to the place you are seeking to find, and usually offer their help, which is best avoided, especially in training, if you wanted someone to help you all the way, why even use the cane??
I know I sound angry at these people, but really, I’m not. It’s only the ones who make a fuss, like the woman who ran around, screaming in Kannada that I was blind, who really get on my nerves. In fact, my mother watched as a young girl crossed the street to help me cross it again. Some people will wait for you to ask, some will approach you, some will help you only if they can’t help it (it’s very difficult to tell a person in need you can’t help them, when they know you can) and those very few, who will refuse to help, because they are too scared of the responsibility or just have their own problems.
My Last Day
The last day of my training was on June 14th, and it was a really difficult day to forget. It started with Geeta’s plan to walk only one way, that is, from the main block to the training centre. I hadn’t told my mother this, who was going to pick me up. We reached, and I sent a message to my mother that I was at the training centre. We waited. Geeta started to have coughing fits, and couldn’t get any water from the training centre, as it was closed that day. We just sat on the stairs. Finally, I called my mother, and my brother’s voice came on the other line, and told me that mom had left her phone at home, that meant that she was waiting at the main block. We decided to walk back really fast. Geeta had to leave to Hyderabad the next day, and half way, it started to rain. I even suggested that Geeta call the main office, but she told me that everyone went home at six o’clock, and it was six-thirty already.
Half way there, however, Geeta got a call from her colleague, informing her that my mother was waiting. We rushed even faster, and finally reached the car. Geeta had invited us home, so we took her through winding lanes; it had started to pour in earnest now. Through the rain, my mother squinted at the road, and finally found Geeta’s house. We went inside. We met her mother, and I spoke to her as a friend, realizing that she was no longer my trainer, though she invited me to drop in for training anytime I was free. Geeta has always been so patient and good-natured. I will certainly miss walking down the road with her, and asking her random questions, some very difficult ones. “You have learnt most of what I could have taught you, the rest will come from practice. Always be confident,” were Geeta’s parting words to me.
I have thought many times of quitting. Many blind people don’t know mobility, I tell myself. Why should I know? I have a good support system. Where ever I go, I’m sure there will always be someone to help me walk around…
But I kept at it, and today I’m glad. I know that there’s only one really reliable person in this world. And that’s me. Being independent is the first step to looking your troubles in the face. Sometimes, it is difficult or embarrassing to walk with the cane. I myself must admit here, that I use it very less. But I know, if in any emergency, I can whip it out, and find my way around. So I suggest this to all. We visually impaired can never learn to use a car or bicycle (though, there is a man who has designed a car that can help a blind person drive, so never say never.) But, mobility training for a blind person is like learning to drive for a sighted person, except that there’s no license involved.
The following is written for sighted as well as the visually impaired. It gives examples of a blind person’s experiences after he has learnt mobility.
If someone did a survey, I’m sure they’d find that most of the visually impaired don’t really go out that often. We tend to stay at home, as we know the ropes there. Outside, in the big, bad world, everything ceases to be secure. We may not like to admit it, but we have more need for security than the spirit of adventure. But, I must say that ever since I became visually impaired, things have actually got a bit more exciting.
I am not saying that I am glad that this happened, but seeing the bright side of things is something we all can do, even if you can’t actually see, and you don’t know bright from dark.
Lets give an example. I am a sighted person, walking to the bus stop. I stand, waiting for it. I look about, people are huddled around, most of them waiting for the bus in silence. You see a friend, a not very close one, and spend five minutes contemplating whether you want to approach him or her. Finally, he comes over and asks you some random questions, after which, you see the bus with the correct number, get into the bus, fumble to pay the driver, and go home.
Now picture it from a visually impaired person’s point of view. I know it’s definitely a longer and harder journey, with people always telling you to go right, or left. Anyway, you leave a little early, as you always do, and reach the bus stop. You hear several voices, and overhear a girl talking to her friend on the phone, and you suspect it’s the same one you heard talking the other day. “Oh, we finally bought a dog…” she is telling her friend. “Dad said okay after ages…” She goes on to tell her, and indirectly, you; about the dog.
“hey,” a voice cuts through the girl’s ramblings.
I wonder who that is. You wonder. It could either be Keshav from my class, or Andy, my senior. (These are not real people; I just made them up for the example.) Some can see this as an embarrassing situation, but at least it’s an interesting one. Most people forget to introduce themselves, forgetting we don’t know who they are. So we get to be unsure about the person, as he keeps talking, and finally, through detective work, we figure out their identity. Or we could ask who they are, but I think it’s more fun this way. You could later tell him about not knowing who he was, and even have a good laugh about it. Since you need help to find out when your bus is coming, you will have to ask people, who otherwise, would have never talked to you. So, instead of standing alone on the bus stop, silently, you get to meet and talk to various people. And, you will never be able to be superficial, what they look like will not shroud their personality. Oh, and we will never have to pay for the government bus.
An exciting and fun filled day well spent, where you had some new experiences, spoke to new people. Less boring, don’t you think? We will never have to go anywhere for adventure, it’s always around, whether we want it or not. A sighted person may live his whole life as a shy individual, not speak much to anyone, stick to his studies, and later his job. He may always be worried about what others think of him, and hesitate to put himself in the limelight.
A visually impaired person is already in the limelight, whether he wants it or not. Everyone notices him; they may not approach him to help him, but he is already more well-known than others. A blind person may feel awkward about it, but he has to ask people for help. He can’t walk around, speaking to no one.
This process gradually becomes a daily activity, and soon forces you out of your shell. This may change your personality for the better. In the beginning, however, you will be afraid, nervous and very insecure. But, after a while, you will realize that life as a visually impaired isn’t that different from life as a sighted person. You can do almost everything; only, you’ll have to find another way to do it. This adaptability will help you in life and work in the future.
When your World Shrinks
When I was first faced with this problem a year ago, I was shocked, and was very sad for awhile,. But that was it. The only thing that really changed for me was the outside world. I stopped going to malls and coffee bars, for shopping, and friends’ houses. My friends would always come home, and I sometimes felt like there was nothing out there.I was always at home, listening to audio books and sleeping a lot. The only place I regularly visited was the hospital, firstly to get my second surgery, and then for regular checkups. When your world shrinks to your house, anything else becomes very interesting. You can have experiences a sighted person will never be able to have.
I thoroughly enjoyed my stay at the hospital; it was like a vacation, except nurses would keep coming to take away my blood every day. I spoke on the phone to my friends as I always do, listened to music throughout the night, and making jokes with the doctors that came to visit. Since I was bed ridden for three days almost, a lot of people came to visit me, and I got to eat hospital food and the chocolates they bought. I drank almost two and a half litres of juice in those four days (Four Season’s Mixed Fruit Juice.) I still remember the operation, going under general anesthesia, and feeling dizzy. It was a lot of fun; I enjoyed every moment in the hospital, but was glad to be home.
Things definitely got boring at times, but I would find something to do. I was told to get JAWS, and through a slow, steady process, learnt everything about it. Well, enough to use the computer. But I have a long way to go, and I keep learning more as the days go by, as more things become necessary.
I booked a slot in EnAble India almost four months after the surgery, and that became something to do.
My last word on Disability
Your disability is only a disability if you think it disables you.
A disability prevents you from doing something in the way other people do it, it doesn’t disable you, at least that’s what I think. We all have our problems, some large, some small. Sitting around moping will not help.
So know this: a general misconception today is that you need eyes to survive in this world. A misconception both on the side of the sighted and the blind.
The world is modeled around people that can see; therefore we find it a little hard to cope. However, if you think about it, if we all get together, we are a world by ourselves.