I started using a blindness cane full-time when I started attending college, and I was surprised to learn that navigating on my college campus was much different than navigating in my hometown or at the store. While it wasn’t hard for me to adjust to using my cane at college, it was definitely different than I had expected it to be, since I was walking everywhere. Today, I will be sharing ten things to know about going to college with a blindness cane.
About a year ago, I was giving a tour of my college to a middle school student who asked me why the tip of my blindness cane looked brand new after six weeks of using my cane at college, because they were expecting it to be worn out from all of the walking I was doing on campus. I admitted to the student that I had just changed the tip of my cane shortly before our tour, because I had managed to wear through my blindness cane tip in about two months due to the rough terrain on campus and surrounding areas. I haven’t gone through a cane tip that quickly since then, but I definitely tell students that they will be changing their cane tips more frequently once they get to college.
During the first few weeks of the semester, I often get questions from new students about how and why I use a blindness cane. Most questions are asked with good intentions, but there’s always one student that tries to convince me that I don’t need my blindness cane if I can use my phone at the same time. Once the first few weeks of the semester are over, literally no one asks me about my cane or even notices it exists for the most part. So no worries about people staring- in college, no one cares.
Many colleges offer lessons for students of all sight levels on how to get to the most common classroom buildings on campus during the first week of the semester. However, the state department for the blind and visually impaired often has a dedicated orientation and mobility specialist that can come to your college and teach you how to navigate with a blindness cane, which can be an awesome resource for students who may not feel comfortable navigating on their own. Contact your case manager before the start of the semester for more details.
Another great resource to take advantage of is campus security escorts. While they won’t walk you to class every day, they are happy to help you get somewhere at night or find you when you get lost in a forest like I did as a freshman.
Remember how I said no one will notice your blindness cane in college? The exception to this is if your cane is in the middle of the floor in the classroom, library, or dining hall, since people definitely will trip over it. I fold my cane and put it in my backpack or behind me when I’m not using it, but you can also prop it against the wall or on your shoulder.
When I first started using a cane, people would ask me why I didn’t take it certain places like to take out the trash or to navigate my dorm room. As a result, I would take my cane places for no reason or give people unnecessary explanations as to why I didn’t take it with me somewhere. In reality, you don’t have to explain why you use or don’t use a cane, so don’t assume that you have to use your cane in places people would expect you to.
One of my friends said that they enjoy using a cane because it means people automatically will guide them around or give them Braille materials just because they have a cane. As someone with low vision who uses a cane, I don’t ask strangers to guide me or read Braille, so I have had to explain to many people that I don’t need those things and instead need things like audio cues or large print. Make sure that you can communicate your access needs, especially to professors and staff.
Okay, this is a funny story. One time, when walking on campus with two of my friends, one of them got their blindness cane stuck in a sewer grate. Since they couldn’t figure out how to get it loose, we had to get help in order to get their cane loose, and I also had to stick my hand in a sewer grate too. After that experience, I decided to practice getting my cane tip un-stuck from places such as sidewalk cracks, doors, and of course sewer grates.
There are lots of reasons to keep a spare cane in your backpack or dorm room, since canes can get lost, stolen, or damaged for many reasons. I started keeping a spare cane in my backpack after I left my cane on my seat in the dining hall to grab a drink, turned around, and saw someone licking my cane. Until I could clean my cane, I decided to use a spare one and question why someone would lick a blindness cane when they were surrounded by food at the dining hall.
I mentioned earlier that people get confused sometimes when they see me using my cane and phone at the same time, but often times I use my phone to help me navigate campus or to access human guides who can help me get where I am going. Colleges can be confusing to navigate, so having access to a device that can help you find where you need to go is invaluable.
During my freshman year, I was embarrassed at times about needing a cane and wondered why I was using one until my cane helped stop me from falling down a flight of stairs and getting hit by a car when I was walking back from class. My cane gives me the freedom to travel independently, and I hope that other students will never feel that they shouldn’t use a cane because of the opinions of others. After all, it is much less embarrassing to use a cane than it is to fall down a flight of stairs at freshman orientation twice in an hour- not that I would know anything about that…