Are you in the 2% club

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There are many statistics about low vision/blindness that would be considered surprising to most. I’ve often talked here about the many misconceptions. Of how the worlds perception of a blind person actually is only a true representation of around 10 to 15 percent of us, which is the percentage who actually do see nothing. But the one that always baffles me no matter how often I hear it it’s that statistic that states only around 2 percent of people who are blind or visually impaired use a mobility cane.

Why is this such a low number?

Now when it comes to this I’m definitely not going to put myself forward as any kind of expert on the subject and maybe that number seems so low to me because of how immersed I am within the blind community. I spend so much time meeting people and speaking at events that seeing someone else using a mobility cane is perfectly normal to me. But I do have a few ideas as to how this number of only 2 percent can be true.

One of the things that inspires me to write my poetry has always been the lack of awareness and education surrounding the spectrum of blindness. How there’s so many of us out there that feel a fraud at times due to the invisible nature of our disability. But through my work I’ve also come to understand that 75 percent of all disability’s are invisible. There are no outward signs which can lead to the person living with the condition to feel doubted and judged by others. So with such a large percentage of people living with a visual impairment that is also a hidden disability it’s no wonder they might feel hesitant to pick up a cane.

This is something I know from personal experience as my condition Retinitis Pigmentosa is considered an invisible disability. I definitely don’t fit in to the perspective of what most people think blindness looks like and when I make eye contact with someone especially when I’m using my cane or guide dog in public it confuses people and I often draw suspicious looks.

When I was first diagnosed and registered severely sight impaired (the equivalent to legally blind) I made a conscious decision to take any and every piece of support I could to ensure I was able to live my life to the fullest. I wanted to be prepared for whatever was to come next with my sight. So I applied for a guide dog and I put myself forward for cane training.

I wanted to make sure that if there was something positive I could be doing I was doing it.

But quite often when I would speak to other people at a similar stage to me their response was different. Quite often I’d hear people say “I’m not blind enough to use a cane yet, I still can see faces” or “I’m not blind enough to use a guide dog yet, that’s something I don’t need unless I’m completely blind”. But whenever I heard that from the many people I spoke to I’d always ask them if they found themselves not going out as often as they used to because of their vision. Did they avoid busy or dark places due to anxiety of their lack of sight. Always their answer was “yes” and I would tell them that’s exactly why some form of mobility aid would help. I’ve been told especially by men that they don’t want to use a mobility cane or a guide dog because they might be perceived as vulnerable. Now I totally understand this feeling too. I remember feeling consumed by panic in the days leading up to my initial guide dog training. Almost 6 years ago I went on an 11 day residential training course to become a qualified guide dog user. I remember feeling anxious and panic stricken about whether I could do this and was it the right thing. I remember almost saying I’d changed my mind and walking away. There were so many doubts swirling around in my mind. Taking on a guide dog was and is a huge commitment and it’s also a label you can’t deny. Would my wife look at me differently. How would people react when I was out in public.

The more steps we take to make sure we are living our lives and not isolated the more we look like that stereotype of a blind person. Whether it’s a guide dog or a cane. Maybe it’s just protecting our eyes by wearing sunglasses more. All these things make us look like that perceived picture of a blind person. It’s no wonder most people are hesitant to start this process.

But the reality is that taking these steps are important and extremely beneficial. Most people I’ve spoken with who use a cane or a guide dog tell me that they wished they’d have done it sooner. They realise that the process of coming to terms with their need for a mobility aid is completely natural and normal. It’s actually a sign of strength to take the help that you need to get out there rather than just saying home more and ultimately giving up on your social life.

So in my opinion these thing’s definitely have an impact on that number of only 2 percent.

If more people understood that mobility aids like canes and guilds dogs aren’t just for people who have no useful sight not only would that number of 2 percent be a lot higher but there would be far less of us struggling with isolation due to our vision loss.

This used to be a thing I felt ashamed of and I feared

This used to be a reason that my pride had disappeared

This used to be a thing that I left folded up at home

This used to be a part of why anxiety had grown

This used to be a symbols of the things I couldn’t do

But now it is the reason that my strength each day anew

Yes now it is a reason I’m no longer a recluse

with every swipe from left to right no longer an excuse

Now it is a symbol of the strength I have in me

I hold it now unfolded it is my mobility

It used to be a thing I felt ashamed of and I feared

But now I’m proud of my white cane

my fears have disappeared