I got a DM from RNIB
asking if I'd watch their new video "about whether canes should always be white or if they can be colourful to represent a person's individuality." And since I've not been blogging near as much as I'd like to lately, I thought this was as good an excuse as any.
So here's the video; it's only a little over two minutes long. It's subtitled (in a nice contrasty black-on-yellow).
The first person (the speakers don't seem to be named in the video, but I've found most of their names in other tweets RNIB did), Maya-Liam, says they like their cane to be colored (the one they're holding is dark purple) because they're proud to use it, which I think is a really interesting idea. It'd never occurred to me before whether I am proud of using my cane.
(Mine is white, by the way.) But now that I think about it, I probably am proud. I'm really glad it exists, I've never been ashamed of it. Of course, I don't think Maya-Liam is asserting the cane has
to be colored for the user to be proud of it, but I can see something about choosing a non-standard variant, like a different color in this case, implying that a person is embracing something rather than accepting it with whatever reluctance. It is true that my white cane looks the same as any carried by someone who's using it really grudgingly. The purple one does seem so much less likely to be perceived as belonging to someone who resents or dislikes having it.
The video then cuts to chloeltear
who says they use a white cane and a yellow walking stick, both of which they have with them to show. They say the white cane is called Audrey and is a girl, and the walking stick is called Albert and is a boy. Naming or gendering my canes is another thing that never
would have occurred to me! But then maybe it's because they have two? I suppose I have a guide cane and a long cane, but they're not for as different a purpose as Chloe's walking stick and long cane are.* So I'm curious now to see what effect the naming -- and gendering! -- of the canes/sticks has.
At the very least, I think it's safe to say that like the first person, this anthropomorphizing is a sign of some amount of pride or fondness towards mobility aids. mother_bones
's old powerchair was called Tankerella, which was indicative of its personality rather than hers but also was an easy way to distinguish it from her manual chair (which I don't think ever had a name). I think I know of other people who've named their wheelchairs, but not other mobility aids like this._LeahRachel
says "When I'm not using my everyday cane," (which they have with them, it's white) "I have a gorgeous pink cane which I call my Glinda wand" (which they have next to it, and caress fondly here). This, again, never occurred to me. When do you not use your everyday cane?
Does it have to be a special occasion, a posh function, a chance to impress like a job interview, that brings out the Glinda wand? Or is it just "I woke up today feeling like it" that makes them choose it over the "everyday" cane?
Chloe says they like that they can be known as "the person with a yellow stick" rather than "the person who uses a walking stick," which I can understand. It is really oppressive being known by your disability or especially by the visible aids you use, and a non-standard color is often enough to distract people from their ableism. SassyWyatt
says they used to use a wheelchair and theirs was bright purple, which they loved, and again I know a lot of people with a similar approach to their wheelchairs. Leah says they like that people are starting to customize their mobility aids, "to be able to express who you are, to make it less medical." The second one I understand, and of course I think it's great that people can sometimes get things like walking sticks, plaster casts, hearing aids, dental braces or wheelchairs in a range of colors but I really balk at including white canes in that. I really wouldn't want one that isn't white.
As nice as the purple one looks, the way this video is shot with such a dark background means I couldn't even see that cane in some of the shots of Maya-Liam holding it; I would not feel safe using that at night. Chloe and someone else, Robert, talk about a colored one being less safe, so one uses only a white cane and the other says if they used a long cane all the time they'd have a colored one and a white one -- I guess this is something else for the "Glinda-wand" havers of the world to take into account: what circumstances are you going to use your cane in? If I have people with me and it's daylight, I probably wouldn't mind so much. But if I'm expecting to ever be by myself, or in the dark, I wouldn't feel comfortable unless my cane was white.
And I know what I'm like: half the time even if I expected to only be out in sunshine with people, I'd end up coming home by myself in the dark. Life is unpredictable, and I have enough decisions to make every day so I wouldn't want "which cane do I take?" to be yet another hurdle to clear before I can get out the door. So I think even if I had a colorful cane, I'd end up defaulting to the white one anyway.
I'm a cricket fan, and I know that one reason they changed from red to white cricket balls in some forms of the game is that those forms are more likely to be played in the dark and the white is more visible. If it's good enough for cricket umpires, it's got me convinced.
Now we're back to Maya-Liam, who says it expresses their alternative rocker personality and that it starts conversations because people call it lovely and ask what it means. This I believe because even though I have an actually white cane, it does have some strips of reflective tape on it, which the rehab officer did when she gave it to me, explaining that it's something Manchester City Council does to make the canes more visible in the dark, especially in car headlights.** The tape is orange-yellow as well as reflective, so under normal light conditions where it's not reflecting, people ask me what the color means. (One friend guessed that it was because I'm a Lib Dem, but I think that says even more about him than it does me.)
From getting these questions on a regular if not frequent basis I've learned that a lot of people have a vague idea that colors on white canes mean something but they're not quite sure what
. I explain it's just reflective tape like cyclists use, but I also tell them that they're probably thinking of a white cane with red bits, because that means someone has a hearing as well as a visual impairment. People have this idea that the color means something but they're not sure what, and I think until people are really clear on what's meant to be an information-conveying color, we shouldn't be confusing them with decorative color that doesn't "mean" anything in the same way.
I really love Robert's next point: "I would say [the choice of a standard white cane] is to do with my personality. Not with the creative side of myself, more the cautious side." And I think this is a great
point, because the more I think about this, the more I do think I am expressing my personality with my cane: I am expressing the value I place on standardization of a symbol.
Because I'm relatively sighted for a blind person, I use the cane as much or more for its ability to signal to the people around me that I'm visually impaired. So I really rely on that message getting through as clearly as possible to as many people as possible. I think because I can see some, I wouldn't necessarily get as many people thinking "oh, she's blind" and modifying their behavior if I had a cane of a different color.
Lastly and most importantly, I agree with Sassy: "We need to educate the entire UK to what a cane is and what it does and then once we've got that firmly under wraps then bling it up." Unfortunately there is still little enough understanding about this -- just yesterday the RNIB retweeted someone saying
he was out for a drink and got asked why he'd brought a ski pole with him! I know it's annoying to basically say the confusion or ignorance of the general public deserves to be catered to more than a blind person's desire to express their personality through their mobility aid.
I have seen ones with handles that are colored or glittery or whatever and have no problem with that kind of thing so it's not like I'm against any customization whatsoever. And obviously I'm not going to tell anybody else what to do, I just think that expressing your individuality through the color of the cane might not be the best way to do it.* I have both because I swap them seasonally: since I see much better in sunshine than in the dark the lighter, shorter guide cane is enough help for me in the brighter summer months; I switch to the more cumbersome but also much more information-conveying long cane which rolls across the ground when the days start to get short enough that I'm outside more in the dark.
** I think the cane is vaguely reflective too -- I'd certainly hope the colored ones are -- but less so than the tape.