Yes, I have used my cane out in public before, but just going places with friends. This time, I used it going through the airport, I used it going to another state, I used it throughout the hotel and walking in LA. This time, it was a part of me.
I have to say it was an emotionally-challenging experience. Meeting new people at the conference, I wondered: did they see me as a blind person who happens to be an author, or did they see me as an author who happens to be visually challenged.
Tough to say..........
You see, as I made my way through the crowd of people (and there were 1,100+ of us there), some people jumped out of the way while others seemed oblivious of the cane. I tried to warn folks I was coming with the visually impaired equivalent to a horn 'excuse me, excuse me'. That usually led an 'oh, I'm sorry' and hopping or sliding over to the side. I didn't mind the hop or slide; the one that bothered me was when someone suddenly yanked their companion out of my way. That yanking motion implied I didn't see them at all and would run right over them, or right into them. That's why I used the word 'blind' above.
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Most people see me as an outgoing, verbal person. [Okay, so I talk a lot.] However, in social situations where I know few people, or in large crowds, I have a very shy side.
So imagine standing in a room full of strangers at a wine and cheese social, holding a plate of fruit and cheese and a cane that is long enough to look like Moses's staff. Does the word uncomfortable or vulnerable, or overwhelming come to mind? It sure did in mine.
Picture an outdoor, grassy area near a pool.This was the location of the Heart and Soul Gala. Add in long banquet tables on either side covered with steamer trays filled with taco fixings and cheese quesadillas.
Now plop down some round tables interspersed in the area, and place huge glass "vases" filled with large heart-shaped sugar cookies on the tables. Oh yeah, throw in a bar area with a long line of people waiting to be served.
Those of us with vision issues refer to this scenario as "an obstacle course."
Now introduce fading daylight, just two large lights, one on each side that probably provide plenty of light for the normally sighted, but for me with eyes that don't adapt quickly between light and dark, it created more blindspot areas.
Nervous yet? Now stick me in there with a cane I'm barely comfortable using, and ask me to mingle with over 1,000 people (of whom I know about 6 personally). Oh, did I mention that a rolling tip cane is useless on grass?
Can you say emotional overload?
These are but two of the challenging times at the conference.
But you know what?
I made it. I handled it all.
Yeah, the emotional stress led me me to eat more than one of those large heart cookies. And I left the gala an hour and a half before it was over because the darkness became too dangerous for me.
But my room overlooked the pool/grassy area and I could stand out on the balcony and still feel a part of the costume competition and music.
And I LOVED every minute of the conference.
Next summer, I hope to go back again. Next time, I'll be more familiar with the hotel layout. And I will be more comfortable using my cane.
And I think an author friend of mine will also be going and she will be there to lend me a hand.... rather an arm or an elbow.