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What White Cane Training Taught Me at Louisiana Center for the Blind

October 15th, 2017

In the photo from left to right is Michael Hingson, Director of Sales at Aira, me holding a white cane and Jimmy, my trainer at Louisiana Center for the Blind.

In the photo from left to right is Michael Hingson, Director of Sales at Aira, me holding a white cane and Jimmy, my trainer at Louisiana Center for the Blind.

Sleep shades on, white cane in my right hand and trainer Jimmy on my left, I stand up off a chair in a conference room and take a few steps forward to find the exit, which I found somewhere on my right using my white cane. For the first time ever I walk out on the streets with my chest up, confident, listening to my trainer Jimmy, and following the path of a sidewalk navigating Trenton Street in Rustin, Louisiana.

In the photo from left to right is Michael Hingson, Director of Sales at Aira, me holding a white cane and Jimmy, my trainer at Louisiana Center for the Blind.

My muscle memory from the center of my palms is exercising a technique called “open-palm” grip that helps me pay attention to the feedback I am receiving from the cane. It allows me to use less mechanical effort for the cane and maximize its information seeking capability. I am walking in step, tapping my white cane, and it’s time for me to cross the streets across Railroad Avenue. I learned to hear the traffic direction from my trainer. Once I have audible confirmation of motor sound, I pause for a second and decide to walk straight ahead, find the end of the curb and step up…

Selfie with Michael Hingson, Director of Sales at Aira and Amy Bernal, VP of Customer Experience at Aira and myself in front of Louisiana Center for the Blind

Yes, I am sighted, but so what? This experience gave me additional skills for my back pocket and provided some lifetime experiences that I was never exposed to before. The training at the Louisiana Center for the Blind is based on the authentic experience of blind people and I am grateful to Director Pam Allen for hosting and training me. At Aira, every day I am immersed with the people who are blind or low vision. I spend more time hanging out and socializing with my friends a large number of them being blind. I have so much of mutual respect with this community and what I have learned in the past three years has changed how I live and enhanced my respect for lives of others. It has taught me that everyone has equal rights to live the life they want, in their terms, irrespective of their vision loss.

Speaking of experiences… at the 2017 NFB national convention I spent one whole day with my sleep shades on using my NFB-branded white cane that President Mark Riccobono gifted to me. The day went by quickly, attending general sessions, meetings, and brainstorming with people about the next generation of things at Aira. Later that evening, I met with some incredible people over an amazing meal. I was then joined by Erich Manser and Michael Hingson, where we kept meeting more convention attendees and the conversations continued.

Me with my custom Aira sleep shades navigating Rosen center hotel with my white cane as Michael Hingson hold my arm. Next to us is blind master chef Christine Ha and her husband John. Also seen in the photo to right most is Erich Manser.

Turns out, the skills that I learned at Louisiana Center for the Blind didn’t fade away late night. I walked back to my room and promptly crashed on the bed. Oh yes if you are wondering, I did use Aira on a few occasions. Each time, it was to complement, not replace, my white cane skills. Every moment of that day is still fresh in my brain and I plan to do it again.

I am sharing this story in an effort to express my deep respect towards white cane and to realize the importance of White Cane Awareness Day, celebrated every year on Oct 15th. I have heard a lot about inclusion of blind people into the sighted world and I strongly advocate that. I also advocate that sighted people be included in the blind community. I am a good example of how that can work. The community has embraced my enthusiasm to get trained in white cane skills and be part of the community with my sleep shades on. Inclusion has to go both ways.

This year, the whole Aira team and I are proud to be celebrating the White Cane Day with #ExploreTheWorld, a campaign dedicated to showcasing everyday moments in the lives of people who are blind and low vision. Check it out on Facebook and Instagram, and help us spread the word using the hashtags #ExploreTheWorld, #MTBM #MTBM17 #WhiteCaneAwarenessDay and #WhiteCaneGiving.

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