I’ve put off writing about this for over two months now but I’d appreciate your input.
I hate to say it, but with mutual agreement with Irish guide dogs for the Blind in cork, Ike is no longer my guide dog. Readers of my blog, my followers on Twitter and people who know me will be aware that I have had almost constant problems with Ike due to unclean walks. In other words, he regularly relieved himself while working.
The problem with this was that I could not bring him with me all the time as I could not take the chance that he would spend in an area where I could not pick up after him or he would need to relieve himself and his concentration would not be on his work.
The entire story is very long and complicated. I won’t go into the whole thing here at the moment because I want to write about my life as a cane user and not the issues that lead up to Ike being returned however, what I will say is, I’m very unhappy with what happened and I think I have been treated quite unfairly.
Anyway, what I wanted to write about today was a problem that I am having now that I am back using the cane.
I am quite confident when walking around both with the cane and with a guide dog. Of course, I can be much more relaxed with a guide dog and I can move much more freely. With a guide dog navigating around Dublin city is much easier compared to using a cane. I walk into stuff. My left shoulder seems to be constantly sore because of things sticking out from buildings at shoulder height but generally, I don’t mind walking into things. The worst that will happen and I trip and land on the ground… Worse things have happened. Seriously though, I usually don’t let much stop me thanks mostly to the attitude adopted by my parents when I was very young. I was never given the chance to take the easy way out. I was always pushed out the door on Saturday morning to fend for myself. Not in a bad way. Don’t pick me up wrong. They just encouraged independence and didn’t except anything less. Actually, it’s kind of funny. I remember being really young and sitting on the side of a chair. I was doing something that was probably uniquely recognisable as being characteristic of someone who is blind. I remember my father asking me what I was doing. I answered and he seemed genuinely amused and curious. He quizzed me on it and actually made me think about it so much that I never did it again. It was this complete unwillingness to surrender to stereo typical attitudes relating to visual impairments that gave me the attitude I have today. I think I’m incredibly lucky to have had that kind of upbringing.
Ok. So, to my problem. Getting around isn’t too difficult when I know where I’m going while using the cane. I get where I need to be usually. I have had problems finding places that I’m not very familiar with but I’ve tried to stay as positive as possible and have asked strangers for directions when needed. The problem arises when I don’t’ know the area that I have to go to. I lose all confidence and I become confused and a bit stressed. I also find that I am terrible in crowds or in busy social situations such as pubs. With a guide dog, I just point in the general direction and the dog will walk me there. He’ll need to make corrections to avoid people or obstructions but in general he’ll walk that direction. With a cane, it’s so easy to get disorientated.
What all of this boils down to is this: I really don’t like using the cane. I find it slow, cumbersome, obtrusive, inefficient, imprecise and conspicuous. I feel like I’m waving a sign around saying, please help! More than the cane though, I hate with a passion asking sighted people to guide me somewhere. It doesn’t matter how well I know them. People are going to completely disagree with this but it’s my personal view for me only. This does not extend to anyone else. I can’t stress this enough, for me; I feel that using a sighted person by grabbing their elbow is a sign of weakness, disability and dependence. I know there are a few people hopping off their chair right now but that’s my honest view of using a sighted guide. I feel like I’m letting myself down and I’m not trying hard enough when I take the lazy option of not using the cane. I think it looks terrible as well. How can I expect to be viewed as an equal in my office for example if on a work night out I ask a colleague to guide me somewhere? Again, I know. You disagree. You’re entitled to that and in fact, you’re probably right. It’s stupid. I know it’s stupid but I can’t shake it. I don’t mind not seeing what’s around me. I just hate the way people pity it. I work damn hard at making sure I contribute equally at work. I think asking for that kind of help would be taking a step back. It’s not just in work though. I really don’t like going to any social setting and having strangers approach me to ask if I need help going somewhere. Is it too much to ask that they introduce themselves to me like they would anyone else? If I introduce myself, it is not because I require their assistance, it is possibly because they sounded interesting and I might want to speak to them.
I really admire people who use a cane. I’m only back to it for just under three months now but I honestly dread every day with it. I really don’t know how they do it.
Take last Sunday for example. I wanted to go to the launch of the TwitterXMasSingle in Dublin. Getting there was no problem but I knew once I got into the crowded room I was going to have problems. I didn’t know anyone there and I knew that simply walking around and joining in with a conversation was going to be made impossible by people asking if I required help to get somewhere. Don’t get me wrong. I appreciate people’s assistance. I just don’t like having to ask for it. I also don’t like that it’s the first thing people think of when they see me with the cane. Anyway, the short version of the story is, after all the speeches, I lasted about five minutes before I gave up. I tried walking around the room but I seriously couldn’t stay orientated and I wasn’t able to confidently join in with a conversation. This is the route of the problem I suppose; I used the dog like a crutch in a way. A guide dog is great for starting a conversation. It kicks the communication off on a positive note that doesn’t revolve around the fact I can’t see. From there, I generally always get speaking to someone else and it progresses from there. Again, as I said earlier, if I’m walking somewhere, I do it much more easily because I give the dog the direction and he avoids everything in between until I’m ready to stop. I’m probably not explaining this very well. I just hope you understand what I mean. I know this is just me being stupid and if I’d just except help in the first place and I wasn’t so hung up on the negative aspect of doing that things would be a lot easier. Trust me, it’s easier said than done.
Tonight, I’m in a similar situation. I’m meant to be going out with people from work. I don’t know the area, I don’t know the pub and for professional reasons I refuse to ask anyone for help. As I said earlier. I refuse to give any of them a reason to see me as anything other than an equal. I know that there are at least five out of the twenty of us that I can completely trust but there are three out of the twenty that I constantly have to be aware of. Problems keep going through my head. How do I get there. Can I just follow along? When I get there where is the bar. Where are the toilets. Is it a big place? What if it’s noisy. I won’t be able to hear any of the people around me and I’ll completely lose track of what’s going on! What if I can’t remember the way back to the bus or train station? I’m already talking myself out of it ! I enjoy these occasions. Their always a nice way of getting to know people outside of work but I find them so hard when using the cane. When using the dog, he happily follows one of the people that I’m with so the fact that I have no idea where I’m going isn’t obvious at all.
This isn’t a new thing with me. I remember going out for a meal with a previous employer about five years ago. We were going to a very strange restaurant but it was basically a big buffet. Buffets aren’t’ good when you can’t see at all! There’s just no way you can use it independently. We had people from a perspective client there that night so showing any kind of dependence at all was not an option for me. I was incredibly worried about it! So. To make sure I could stay in control for the entire night, I contacted the owners of the restaurant before hand and explained my situation. They were fantastic! They told me that the menu changes from night to night and they asked me what kind of food I’d be most likely to eat. They discreetly kept an eye on me for the whole night and while the other people got up from the table to get food they quietly made arrangements with me. No one noticed at all! At the end, one of the managers asked how I managed. She never thought of asking me before hand if I’d have any problems. I was delighted at that. It would really annoy me if a manager considered the fact that I can’t see. I was relieved to be able to explain that I had made arrangements before we arrived and she was actually impressed at my approach. That same manager actually asked me straight out once why Emma was going out with me. She didn’t mean it in a bad way, she was genuinely curious why someone who didn’t have a visual impairment would go out with someone who had one. She just had a very direct way about her. When I explained she just laughed quietly and continued on her way. That was a very weird bunch of people I worked with back then.
Hopefully you know where I’m coming from. I’m just waiting for all the comments saying that I’m crazy. Maybe one though might tell me how I get out of this whole I’m in. It’s getting to the stage where I just don’t want to go anywhere. I don’t want to be like that. I enjoy being out. I enjoy going to places where I know no one. I enjoy doing different things and going to new places. I just don’t have the confidence at the moment and that’s really pissing me off.
As I keep saying to people, I still can’t believe I’m back in this situation again. I only had Ike for nine months. They were nine difficult months and to be straight with you, although I would have liked to keep working him until a successor guide dog was found, I’m kind of relieved he’s gone. He was making it difficult to go anywhere. Probably even more so than I’m finding with the cane.