From a stigma to a stick, ma

by Ken Stewart

ACB president Mitch Pomerantz and I, and others too, have written about the value of seizing any opportunity to educate the general public about blindness.  And what better time to start that education than with kids?

I was rushing along a Manhattan sidewalk to a subway station on my way to the monthly meeting of the Transit Riders Council.  I was overtaking what sounded like a bunch of frolicking kindergarteners being herded by one stern adult following behind them.  Obviously noticing me as I passed her, she shouted ahead to her charges commands like, "Watch out!", "Get out of the way!", "Move out of the way.  He's blind", "The man is blind!", and even, "Don't laugh!" and, "It's not nice to laugh at him!"  I immediately wished I had the time and the opportunity to pause and engage those kids positively.  I did try to smile broadly as I forged ahead through the little tykes.

Several hours later I had an opportunity to act on that urge to educate the younger generation.  I was traveling out from my meeting when, as is almost a constant experience in Manhattan, a stranger offered me assistance finding my way.  We were both heading for the shuttle subway under Grand Central Terminal.  I accepted her offer.  As I walked on her side holding her elbow, she mentioned that she had her daughter with her, evidently on her other side.  We boarded the train together.  I submitted to my escort's exhortation to sit while she and her daughter stood alongside in the crowded car.  During the short ride to Times Square I had a golden opportunity to engage the 8-year-old.  I explained how I use my long white cane to detect obstacles in my path and to feel the walking surface.  She accepted my offer to hold the cane, and commented on its light weight.  Then, to her fascination, I demonstrated how it folds up and is held together in that condition by its strap.  Again, she eagerly took hold of it.  Then I explained to mother and daughter, and probably others nearby tuned in by then, about telescoping models and those very large and rigid white canes that stay whole.  The youngster seemed to be enjoying our exchange so much.  I said that I probably should give my cane a name.  She agreed.  When she proposed no name, I asked what she thought of a name like, "Whitey," or maybe, "Straighty."  She vetoed Straighty because, "He doesn't stay straight!"

After we all exited the train, we went our separate ways within the mammoth Times Square Station complex.  As they stepped away, they both called out good-byes, and I waved my cane at them, exclaiming, "Whitey says good-bye too!"