Turkey’s youngest cane user

I’m the mother of a 9-year-old; Duygu is visually impaired.

In previous years, on our way to school, I used to warn Duygu about barriers on our path, “Careful, there’s a lamp post …”, or “You need to step down here”. I tried not to hold her hand because I wanted her to walk independently. We managed in a way, but not as well as I hoped. On a new route, if she wasn’t sure, she wouldn’t even take one step however much I begged her. She was afraid of falling or hitting things; she wouldn’t believe me and wanted to hold my hand. This made me really sad.

Putting myself into my daughter’s shoes, I started to think. I realized that I was her cane, a cane that had to talk to her but that at times she did not trust. When she held the hand of this ‘mother-cane’, her confidence rose. As a mother this too made me really sad; not because I would have to hold her hand for the rest of her life, but because she would never become independent.

At this point there was only one solution I could think of: Duygu needed a white cane that she could hold and move at her will, when and where she wanted.

I asked my friend Claire Ozel, (actually not only my friend but also the friend of many disabled people and their friends). Claire immediately searched the Internet and found the NFB website with information about Kids with Canes. She then contacted Fatos Floyd, who asked for Duygu’s ‘ground-to-chin’ measurement; then the cane was on its way from Nebraska to Ankara.

It arrived March 22nd 2006. The cane I had dreamt of had come from the USA and been brought to my child’s school, one of the two Schools for the Blind in Ankara. When we held it in our hands, Duygu was happy but I was surprised, unsure, unprepared… That first time as we left school with the cane in my hand, I heard my inner voice. “While Duygu walks holding my hand, she seems normal and no different from other children; she doesn’t attract much attention. But if she walks with the cane, people’s attitudes towards her will change; they will feel sorry for her, even pity her.” This would devastate both of us emotionally.

Outside the school gates, I stopped, then turning round, we walked back in to find the sports teacher. I showed him the cane, expecting him to react negatively, like most people I had consulted. I told him my fears, and in my pessimism I exaggerated the negative sides. I can’t explain how relieved I felt when he simply said “You have done well. It is good to start using a cane at an early age”.

Suddenly all my fears and hesitations disappeared; with the first positive reaction from an educator I felt happy and started to believe in myself, my instincts. He showed us there and then how to hold the cane and how to use it. As we left school and went home I felt incredibly relieved. In one of the most important moments since Duygu’s birth, I knew that now everyone was going to know the truth that only few had known, that my daughter couldn’t see. How long could I have kept it a secret? I now felt strong, I was ready for any kind of reaction!

Duygu and I talked about her cane. I told her that if she used it well, the cane would tell her all the barriers on her way. If she didn’t use it correctly, if she raised it too high, the cane could miss barriers and wouldn’t tell her about them, so she could fall. If she used her cane too close to the ground or if she dragged it, this time the cane might push her back and again she could fall. I had learnt all these from my own experience as a ‘cane’ and by watching Duygu carefully.

In those early days we talked to the cane. We said things like “Bad cane!, I fell because it didn’t tell me!”, or “The cane is very clever, I would have fallen if it hadn’t told me”. After a few months when Duygu told me that the cane couldn’t speak and it wasn’t alive, I understood that the cane had reached its goal: she now knew that the cane was moving at her will and under her control.
Once she stopped talking to her cane, we started to chat on our way back home, about things we had done that day or what we would do when we got home. Before the cane, we could never chat because I was so busy pointing out the way. Now Duygu is becoming more and more confident and using the cane more willingly. She has shown that a cane can only be learnt by using it.

It’s been a year since she started using her cane. During this time there have been people who said that as a mother I had done something wrong, that it was not right for a child of her age to use a cane and that using a cane would damage my child psychologically. It would be a lie if I said I didn’t care about what they said. I have wondered many times “What if what they are right?”. Sometimes I felt pessimisstic seeing no one around me following our example. However, I have put all these thoughts aside because what really matters to me is what my child is feeling.

I’m sure that starting to use a cane at an early age will benefit her greatly. She has learnt to trust herself rather than depending on a ‘speaking cane’. Today she even runs with her cane. In short, she is a happy self-confident child who knows she can learn new skills, even if others doubt this. And I am no longer her speaking cane, I am her mother who loves her more than anything.

Ankara March 2007                                                                                                            Suna Ezen

Beyaz Baston   Duygu and Suna talk about being a young cane user in Turkey in 2007