Alongside all of the medical people we have to see at the hospital, Eleanor also receives support at home and nursery from visual impairment specialists, one of which is a mobility teacher who will assist her in learning to move around independently.
Eleanor has been given two white canes. One is called a ‘Long cane’ and is primarily used for mobility purposes by detecting objects in her path. The other is a ‘Symbol cane’ and is exactly what it suggests it is, a symbol. A symbol which alerts others of her visual impairment.
Due to her age the long cane isn’t entirely necessary yet as she always holds our hands when out walking, she would also not be out walking alone, yet! It is, however, important for her to get used to holding it and using it so when the time comes she will be confident enough to start the process of becoming more independent.
I have mixed feelings about the symbol cane. In a way I feel at her age it is completely unnecessary. Eleanor is always with us and she never leaves our sight. However, people now move out of her way when walking towards her. Mothers move their prams instead of almost running her over. My job guiding her around people is made so much easier when she has that cane. People move on buses and trains, they actually get up and let us sit. That would never happen without it. People are more patient when we are walking up and down steps. Instead of rushing past, they stop and wait.
Despite all of those benefits, I still want to snap the bloody thing in half. It’s like a massive neon sign shouting to the world that Eleanor is blind. People rarely need to know she cannot see. I hate the fact that people now look at her with sympathy, or even worse, look at me with sympathy. People who would normally just walk past her and ignore the little girl skipping along with her Mum and Dad. I had my reservations as soon as it was mentioned she would be getting one, but I understand why she needs it and how useful it will be to her. Unfortunately, one of the first times I took her out with it my reservations were validated.
Tim was away working in Paris for the weekend and Eleanor’s ‘Nana’ & ‘Gaga’ (my Mum & my Step Dad) had come to visit. We had been out for dinner and decided to have a little walk. Eleanor was skipping ahead hand in hand with her Gaga, holding her cane and my Mum and I were trailing behind when a lady walked past, stopped, tapped her husband on the shoulder, pointed at Eleanor and said in a loud voice “Oh, look at that poor little girl, she’s blind”
I felt the tears sting my eyes and it took every ounce of strength in my body to keep walking and not scream at her. I was devastated. It made me feel sick with anger and pain. Her words still echo in my head every single time I see that cane. I wish I could have found the words to explain to her how that comment made me feel at the time. I wonder how she would have felt if I had walked past her, pointed and said “Oh, look at that poor lady, she is fat and ugly” (because she was!)
Would that have been any more acceptable!?
I am sure she meant no harm with what she said. She was simply pointing out the obvious in her mind. I am also sure that she would have been extremely embarrassed had she known how hurtful her words were to me, that poor little girls mother.
People now look at Eleanor, not because she is a pretty little girl with a beaming smile (yeah, yeah, I am totally biased, I know!) but because of that neon sign in her hand. I walk around with my gaze slightly down, partly because I am now Eleanor’s eyes. I have to watch out for obstacles she might need to avoid or be made aware of; broken paving slabs which she could trip on or kerbs to step up or down, but partly so I don’t have to see the faces of others as they battle with whether they should smile or pretend they haven’t noticed.
It will certainly take some getting used to. I still can’t quite believe that any of this is actually happening full stop, but one day I know I will be able to walk with my head up, talk to people if they say something which hurts my feelings or catch the eye of the odd stranger and smile, giving them the confidence to smile back and see my daughter for the wonderfully happy and confident little girl she is, instead of ‘that poor little blind girl’.