My cane

Annaham plus stylish inlaid wood cane equals awesome

[Image description: a woman’s hand rests on an inlaid wood cane.]

I use a cane! This should not come as a surprise, but often when I am out in public, it does. People seem surprised to see a young person who uses a cane; while I have not gotten people “confronting” me about it directly — quite unlike my limp caused by cerebral palsy, which is more often cause for extremely invasive personal questions and/or people asking in an oh-so-concerned tone of voice if my “foot” is okay (even though it’s not just my foot that is affected by the CP!) — I have gotten stares because of it.  Staring seems to be one of those things that folks think they can get away with, but most of the time, they can’t.

I am used to being stared at; it’s something I have dealt with quite a bit, as a person with several disabling conditions (one of which — cerebral palsy — I’ve had since birth). In Western society, it is usually considered impolite to stare, if not outright rude. And yet, people do it anyway. There is no faster way to learn this than to be a person with a body that does not fit mainstream expectations of “normal” — whether this body is marked by race, disability, sexuality, class, gender(ed) performance or status, fatness, or other signifiers that mark someone as different from “the norm” (which is, in itself, socially constructed).

I don’t usually get offended if I catch someone staring at my cane; I do get offended, however, when the stare-er tries to pretend that s/he/zie wasn’t staring, mostly because this seems like kind of a dishonest move, and I tend to favor honesty. Ideally, no one would stare at my cane, or at me, and I could just go about my business when I’m out in public. But there’s a question, additionally, that’s always on my mind about having a body that isn’t totally mainstream (even if the body in question has other types of privilege): are these people who stare actually noticing me in a way that matters, or are they thinking, “Thank [deity] that I’m not like her.”

5 Comments

  1. I started using a cane as a second year medical student, six years ago now. One day I came into lecture hall with a cane. Everyone stared. Classmates for the past year, they just stared. No one said anything like “nice cane” or “look how much better you’re walking now” or “that’ll help keep you from falling so much, huh?” No one said anything at all, actually. Days passed, and still everyone stared and no one said anything. It was like the elephant in the corner, the one that everyone knows about because it’s an ELEPHANT but no one is about to mention.

    After about a month of this, I went out and bought a toy elephant and attached it to the handle of my cane. I figure it would give people something real to stare at. And stare they still did, and still no one in my classes said anything. I went over to the hospital. The patients liked it. Some of the nurses liked it. The occupational therapists liked it. Random people in the elevator liked it. My dean made an uncomplementary comment about it, and all the other doctors and medical students just stared. I started to call the Elephant a good judge of character, because people who liked him tended to be people who dealt well with me having a disability.

    I have a pretty new cane now with pink roses on it, which matches my spring wardrobe. Some girls buy shoes. I buy canes. The pink roses cane gets nice comments too. So Elephant doesn’t get out quite as much. But either cane is a good judge of character. People who mention my cane tend to notice me as a person, with a cane. People who stare in silence tend to notice me as a person attached to a cane. We come together, and staring at one of us is akin to staring at the other, not truly accepting either one.

  2. I tend to think of this as one relative advantage of being blind: when people stare, I don’t notice, so I don’t have to deal with it. I only have to deal with the people who talk behind my back whilst staring.

  3. Oh, one more comment: it does get annoying when people confuse me with another blind person just because we both use canes.

  4. I don’t use my cane daily, I have to weigh which is in worse shape: my knee and hip or my wrist and hand, if my wrist and hand aren’t in full fighting form, using the cane can make things worse than struggling along without it. Mine is a plain bronzey-colored aluminum one purchased at Target, I think, for $10. I’d like to have a collection with pretty colors and fancy handles. Maybe when I win the lottery.

  5. I use my walking stick for balance – it’s an extra point of contact with the ground as I’m moving around, and if I go wobbly then it’s the next best thing to a portable handrail. I’m actually ended up on the floor a lot less since getting it (about a month and a half ago?).

    Since starting to think about getting one, every time I’m in public-at-large (rather than just the campus bubble) I notice how many people there are about carrying walking sticks, using chairs – even one lady at the train station with a walking umbrella (so no-one can tell that you’re using a stick!) There have been a few, mostly older people without visible aids who give the ‘If I don’t need a stick then neither do you!’ glare, though.

    The first question I got asked about it from a friend was a tentative ‘Do you have that because you need it, or because it looks cool*?’ And when I answered to the former, the room full of people just added it to their mental notes and carried on. I love my friends.

    *A fair number of these folks enjoy steampunk larp.