By Kim Browne
I still remember the first time I met another blind child. In the spring of 1997, blind students from North Carolina met at Governor Morehead’s School for the Blind in Raleigh for a day of community and fun. I was six years old. I attended a public elementary school with able bodied children, and other than sitting at the front of the class always, I did my best to blend in and make friends the way any kindergarten would – over blocks and games and running around at recess. But on that spring day in 1997, I met other kids like me. It was a day where I was not asked why I did not wear glasses or why I did not look directly at people, a day where I did not feel like I had to hide a part of myself, a day where I really got to be a free kid because I did not have to worry about the way I was perceived at school. (Yes, I had these thoughts at six). I looked forward to that trip every year, until it ended in 2002. Honestly, those field trips were a chance to learn from other kids like me how to navigate school and life, while also having a little fun. But the purpose of this story is not to brag about one fun day a year I got to have while my able-bodied peers were in class. It is to express the importance of developing a community of peers. Knowing other blind children, and eventually those with whom I still remain friends to this day, created an avenue for me to see the possibilities in my own life and advocate for myself when other kids would discuss visual aids they were using that I had yet to be exposed. Now, instead of chatting about CCTV and Flipperport magnifiers, we share pancake recipes, how to get our kids car seats around town if we need to Uber places, and which libraries have the best large print book selections.
Today marks White Cane Awareness Day in the United States, a significant day within the month of October – known as Blind Equity Achievement Month. The National Federation of the Blind recognizes White Cane Awareness Day to celebrate the role the cane plays in allowing blind people “the ability to achieve a full and independent life.”
With all transparency, while I am a blind person, I do not use a cane. (For more information about my personal vision impairment, check out the last post I did for Extra Lucky Moms}. I cannot know the lived experience of a blind person who uses a cane and cannot speak to the exceptional value this tool adds to their lives. The best I can do in this instance is provide a reference to some guidance on how to interact with blind people. The mnemonic “COURTESY” is a reminder that blind people just want to be treated like everyone else – with kindness and respect.
It is not uncommon to hear from people that “[I] do so well for a blind person.” When I hear those words, I half smile and say thank you. I tend to add to my response that they would be surprised with how they would interact with the world if they never knew anything else. But those words are not a compliment. I have a full, busy, and chaotic life as a mom of two children and one dog, wife, friend, and employee. So no, I do not do well for a blind person. I do well for a person. What affords me the ability to have a full and independent life is my incredible community and visual aids that I have used since I was child (i.e., large print, magnifiers, light enhancers, screen readers, audio tools).
So as the Extra Lucky Mom community joins in the celebration of White Cane Awareness Day, I hope you walk away with a few thoughts. First, what you are doing in this community is exceptional. You are both supporting other parents and providing a window into a peer group for your kids (like the one I mentioned above). Friendship, school, and life are hard. Thorton Wilder says in Our Town “people are meant to go through life two by two. Tain’t natural to be lonesome.” There is no reason a parent should be lonely in disability parenthood, just as there is no reason that children living with disabilities should not have a community of children just like them to make all facets of life easier and relatable. Second, while my lived blind experience is not that of those we are celebrating today, please go forward and remember that “COURTESY” is always the best approach. Finally, a world of knowledge is truly a question away. When you feel like you do not know the best way to support a person with a disability, ask questions – of them, of experts, of other parents. The more you know, understand, and can relate to another person’s lived experience will allow you to be your most helpful and generous self.