Monday, December 13, 2010

White Cane

Just before Thanksgiving my daughter decided that she wanted to take another try at getting her permit to learn how to drive. We had been to the Motor Vehicle Administration branch on Industrial Parkway three times over the last four months, and each time we failed in this pursuit. Twice, we couldn’t meet the incredibly high identification standards, and she failed the test on our last visit.

This time we felt really good about her chances. She studied, and we walked straight in and she passed the test in about five minutes. She bounced out of the testing room and happily reported that she had passed. “I only missed one,” she proudly added. All we had to do then was survive the hour-long wait for her card.

As we sat on the perforated and contoured steel bench among the rows of other beleaguered MVA customers, my daughter laughed and said, “ you’re not going to believe the question I missed.” After I replied that it must have had something to do with an obscure topic, she smiled and said, “ It was a question about recognizing a blind pedestrian.”
You must be kidding…

The multiple-choice question asked how a motorist is to recognize a blind pedestrian at a crosswalk. My daughter answered “You can’t tell.” Here was a girl who had walked next to a blind pedestrian for her entire life – and she gave the incorrect answer. Even though the Driver’s Handbook says otherwise, she understood that you really can’t tell if the person at the corner can see you – cane, or no cane.

Chalk it up to inexperience. She could not possibly understand the way a driver thinks. Even though she has traveled many miles in a car, she is still primarily a pedestrian and transit user. Her sense of scale is different than most people. She is just beginning to learn and appreciate that speed de-humanizes people, so drivers need signs like white canes or dogs to identify hazards.

I have struggled with the idea of using a cane for some time now. It is a matter of vainity. I have a psychological barrier to admitting my disability – especially to strangers. My personal safety up to this point has been built around my physical appearance. As a tall-ish, 200-pound guy, I look like I can handle things. At least, that is how I hope to look. Somehow, toting a white cane blows a hole right through that projection. It’s like saying, “OK, so, I need a little help here…”

At least I know now that my daughter still buys the image, anyway.

So, I need to find a way to take up a white cane – not because I need one to find walls and curbs and the like, but to identify myself to drivers as a blind person. Like an "I'm Blind" sign. If I don’t choose the white cane I am putting myself at risk because drivers won’t recognize me as disabled and may not take care when driving around me. When my daughter leaves home to go to college in a couple of years I won’t have anyone to walk with me. No one to say “go” when the light turns white. My coping strategy is going to change by necessity. It’s almost time to ‘fess-up.

I hope by the time I am out there alone that government has discovered the importance of the pedestrian transportation system. I hope that innovative pedestrian solutions are sought as a matter of course, not of complaint. Most of all, I hope that I can remain active in my hometown after my kids are on their own. I hope that I won't succumb to the urge to stay in all the time to avoid the dangers and humiliation. Instead, I hope to grown enough to deal with my situation with confidence and grace.

After sitting for more than hour waiting to pay, we finally got my daughter’s learner’s permit. As in other areas of her life, she will have to depend on driving friends to get her learning hours. One day she will feel the freedom and responsibility that car ownership provides. It comes with an exhilarating feeling of pride that you have finally made it to the American dream. She will discover the wonder s and trials of driving. She will eventually forget what it was like before having a driver’s license, but I will always remember with particular pride that she got that question wrong on her test, and that it was the only one she missed.

1 comment:

  1. Ohio has a similar question, but I hate how it's worded and somewhat purposefully answered it wrong.
    The question was worded as "You must stop for a blind pedestrian if..." and had several options. The correct answer was supposed to be the cane one. I wrote in "the pedestrian is trying to cross the street" because it otherwise read as "don't hit the guy with the cane, but feel free to mow down other pedestrians in the crosswalk!"

    Also, glad other people find MD's id requirements absurd. I was incredulous when told that my printout of a paystub was not the same as an "official" paystub for id purposes, despite the fact that it's the same information and my company doesn't do paper paystubs anymore.