In 1999, when I was 5 years old, I was diagnosed with leukemia which led to optic atrophy in both eyes. I was registered blind at that same time, although it wasn’t until 2 years later that I realized that drastic change. For a long time, I was in denial and just thought that the doctors had it wrong.
I took long time to accept my new condition as a visually impaired person. I couldn’t accept to rely on a white cane. I refused it and I wondered how people would look at me when I walk with this stick. Even worse, I was convinced that, if I use the cane, everyone would know that I’m blind. Although it's obvious to anyone that I'm blind, isn't it?
There is a particular dilemma for those who are used to depend on a white cane to go out in Cairo streets. In Egypt, we are always afraid of false tags or judgements, so many blind people don’t use any aid which shows that they’re a little bit dependent. In our Egyptian society, I suppose that people’s attitudes towards a person using a white cane can stop him or her from leaving the safety of their own home. I think this is especially the case for elderly people with visual impairments.
When I started to work at the Dialogue in the Dark exhibition in Egypt in 2019, it was actually my first time to go out in our Cairo streets with my white cane, although I always used it in Spain and France while I was studying there. Sighted people visiting our exhibition seem to appreciate holding a white cane to maneuver through the darkened areas. It gives them a sense of security.
Being in a direct contact with our visitors helped me to see my potentials. We always debate that, instead of showing me as a victim, they help me to see everything that I can offer. It is a safe space where people ask more questions and do less judging. I understood that refusing my white cane was limiting my abilities. Moreover, I realized that using this cane allows me to be more independent. Today, I can walk quite independently in my city, I can go alone to my work and, actually, I don’t care about tags or judgements.
I have had many occasions when people have offered help. I remember one time at one of the metro stations, I was just getting onto a train, the platform was really crowded. A friendly hand held my right elbow, and another my left elbow, I said “thank you so much”, and that made my day, just a small gesture by a couple of people I didn’t know, but those small things can make up for the negative experiences.
I would like to say to people who try and help someone, please don’t be offended if this person says they don’t need your help, because the next person may appreciate it so much. It may make their day.
Happy White Cane Safety Day!