Friday, October 11, 2013

Disability Stereoptype Lab: Let's Talk About My Cane

Let's talk about my cane.

I use it for:

-maintaining balance while standing and walking (whether it's because I'm feeling faint, my hip joints are shrieking, my muscles are refusing to comply, or anything else that crops up).
-reminding myself to conserve my energy and not walk too fast.
-navigating uneven terrain.
-keeping the bus driver from shutting the door on me.
-smacking handsy strangers.
I don't always need to use a cane, but when I do, I REALLY need to use it. If I had a dollar for every time I've been walking along regular style, hit a wall, and had to sit down while someone else went to fetch my cane, I would have so many dollars! Sometimes my need for assistance remains consistent for weeks and other times it oscillates drastically within a 24 hour period.

A few years ago, after my second bout of viral meningitis, I realized I was going to need a cane off and on for pretty much ever. Because the canes that are sold at the drug store are so depressing-looking, I ordered a custom cane online - the perfect long term solution! I got a shiny black number exactly my size with a modest sprinkling of rhinestones set into the handle. It even had a monogram plaque on the shaft until that got rocked off at the final Funhouse/Glenn or Glennda? show last Halloween. (This is evidence of me not being afraid to live life and being willing to push my limits, NOT evidence of malingering.) That cane has been beaten to hell and I will adore it always. It doesn't make me feel extra handicapped whenever I see or use it - that is, until I'm out with it in public.

You see, my fancy-style existence prohibits the general public from taking me and my cane seriously. I have been told I am too stylish and too graceful for my situation to be real. I haven't seen much hard evidence, but apparently there are droves of seemingly put-together people who are masquerading as those who actually need assistive devices or are even using those devices as fashion statements. (I'm being sarcastic, but I am also looking at you, trendy eye patch girl* and "Fred Astaire cane trick" guy.) While I don't doubt that there are a few fully-functional scammers/clueless fashionistas out there, I don't believe the situation is as ugly as people think it is. I feel the same way about the food stamp situation and the disability insurance situation. (Seriously, if you've ever been in the uncomfortable position of applying for either, you probably know how completely unjustified the modern "welfare queen" stereotype is. If you haven't, please remember to count your blessings and not throw stones.)

The designated "disabled and elderly bus seating" wild west showdown microcosm is a solid example of how the general public and invisibly disabled people themselves perform an exhausting, cautious, and distrusting dance around one another. The able bodied person taking up the last seat in that designated area is usually either zoning out or wonders, eyes pointed intently at a Very Engrossing Book, if the person asking for a seat truly needs it. The invisibly disabled person wonders if every single one of those reserved seats could possibly be filled by other disabled people and calculates whether it's worth the risk to try and stand during the long commute home since no one (even the bus driver) seems to want to acknowledge the situation anyway. How non-productive! 
Because of all the hassle I've received (even from other disabled folks) when using my fancy cane, I recently purchased a clunky grey one from the drug store to use as an experiment. Amazingly (not really), I have experienced zero trouble from strangers since I started using it more regularly than the other. My verdict: there's a persistent stereotype that exists for disabled people where they must "look" disabled AND disadvantaged in order for others to trust that there is no deception happening. This is terribly unhelpful and stressful. It is so unfortunate that our society's default mode is automatic mistrust of our neighbors. I'd definitely like to see that disappear.

*I do have to wear an eye patch at times to correct double vision. I'm sure it comes as no surprise that I have some fancy ones in my collection along with the beat up plain black one I've used for 20+ years. I have no problem personally using them for fashion as well sometimes, but I am aware of and respect the fact that other folks with impaired vision might feel differently.

Bill and me a couple of Halloweens ago. Photo: Kook Teflon


  1. Damn cripples takin up all the good seats... next think you know, you're gonna wanna be the first in line for all of the good Disney Land rides... harumpf <3

  2. My balance (or lack thereof) is getting to the point to where I've actually thought about cane. And then I saw these in True Value:

    Pretty, almost gaudy canes, that hopefully will become the norm, thus alleviating stereotyping. My 94 year old grandmother-in-law will be getting one for Christmas. She is none too happy about having to use a cane now.

    Take care, and rock on.

  3. Oh, I definitely need one of those! Thank you for the link. I hope you and your grandmother-in-law each find the perfect cane and suffer no stereotyping or other grief because of it!

  4. Of all my ailments, the one thing I pride myself on is my ability to still walk, in my opinion, normally. But as of recent I have noticed a decrease in my stability. I haven't considered a cane yet, but I may need to. If I do, I'd go with one from the link above. :) Thanks again for sharing!