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My cane and visibility

A couple of years ago my arthritis advanced to the point where I need to use a cane for a while. (I’m not using it now thanks to physical therapy). At first, I was a little upset. But then I realized that walking slowly with a cane is better than just walking slowly. I was moving into the category of the visible disability and away from being able to hide it invisibly.

Tons of us have invisible disabilities. We can pass for normal as long as we are not directly forced to exhibit our disability. They can be mental disabilities. They can be pain-causing disabilities. Or we may just be really good at covering things up and pretending things are normal.

I thought that people seeing me with a cane and the cane would buy me a few privileges. People would be more willing to hold doors for me or give me more room to pass. It could buy a little more patience when I was slow to get up or down.

Boy, was I wrong.

The famous cane

If anything, the cane made me more invisible – as people actively tried not to see me. People taking up the entire shopping aisle would not scoot over to give me room coming through. Doors were let go to slam into me. If I dropped something and was having obvious difficulty picking it up, no one helped. If I dropped my cane, no one helped.

It was pretty awful. My visible disability rendered me invisible. Folks would turn away or scuttle sideways to enhance their plausible deniability that I was not there.

The one group of people who did see me was people with canes themselves. Men with canes would almost always hold doors open for me. Women did too, sometimes. I got a lot of comments on my cane. (It was pretty with peacock feathers drawn on it.) I noticed people with canes, too. It is almost as if the cane gave me and others 3D glasses to see the world differently.

It might be age, instead of the cane, that people were avoiding. We are really good at not seeing old people. Old folks and their problems are perhaps too much to deal with, even in extending everyday courtesies.

My challenge to you is this: start looking for canes. See if other parts of your vision shift along with it. I’m betting the world will look a lot different if you do.

By Johanna

Writer, reader, person living with a disability, cat-mom, learner, mystic. J.D./Ph.D. from Ohio State. Can be found writing a speculative fiction novel, or about women's soccer and life with chronic pain.

One reply on “My cane and visibility”

I use a walking stick (but more often a wheelchair when out and about) and used it a lot in 2019 when I was still working. I could not agree with your post more, its like people actively avoid noticing you when you’re using a mobility aid. I’ve found that since using a more modern, younger style walking stick, I feel a little less ignored as people are more likely to compliment me on it and not see it as a gross medical thing.

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