Coffee with Kalari: Learning How to Embrace the White Cane

This article is part of a weekly series written by Kalari, a writer, athlete, mother and employee of The Chicago Lighthouse who is visually impaired. She shares her perspective on a variety of topics in order to build community.

Coffee with kalari logo

Anyone who knows me understands that independence is a major part to my life. I strive to be independent in every area. This need to be independent started with my parents. After losing my vision at six, my family’s world was rocked to the core. After grasping the idea that I was legally blind, my parents went into research mode. They found the best doctors, schools and materials to identify ways that I could be self-sufficient. This grew with me as I got older.

At the age of 7, I received a white cane and started taking orientation and mobility classes. At first, I hated my cane. I looked at my cane as a crutch and stinging reminder that I am different. I used to physically run away from it. In my mind I did not need it and it made me look different from everyone else. I looked at the white cane as a label identifying me as different and I could not live with that.  It was my parents and teachers that forced me to use the cane, as I felt I could travel around without it. As I grew more stubborn, I fought as hard as I could not to use it. I refused the cane and because of that I had many falls. I fell down stairs, I ran into doors, and I even ran into a tree. After that hard hit at age 13, I decided that maybe the cane is not that bad!  My parents love to call these particular instances life lessons.

Kalari walking outside using a cane
To me, the white cane is a symbol of independence.

As I entered high school, I began to embrace my cane. I realized that if I used it, my parents would allow me to have a little more freedom.  I then began to take my orientation and mobility lessons more seriously. My confidence grew and my fear disappeared. I found it so liberating to travel on my own. I began to look at my cane as my companion as opposed to a crutch. My cane became a tool for me to be independent and live my life. I began to move around everywhere with my cane. It became an extension of my hand. I grew so attached to my cane to the point where if I did not have it, I felt naked. I even gave my cane a name.

I learned how to move all around the city. I became an expert at traveling downtown and navigating transportation, from busses to trains. I now often prefer public transportation over paratransit services. It’s nice to get rides, but I hate waiting on them. I feel when I am ready to go, I want to leave, and my cane allows me to do that and plan my day according to my own schedule.

What was your journey to accepting your white cane? How do you prefer to move around the city? I would love to hear your experiences!

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