June 2017


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Jul. 30th, 2016

I don’t need my cane. I can walk without it. I walk more steadily with it. I have the stamina to walk further and faster. I have less pain when I use it. It helps me up curbs so I don’t have to go as far out of my way to find curbcuts. It is helpful getting off the bus. I don’t use it at home or at a friend’s house. I don’t use it around the part of the hospital where my office is. I use it for speeds, distances and to keep balance in crowds.

I don’t need my glasses, either. I can see without them. I see better with them. I can see things further away, such as the TV screen, a presentation or the faces of my patients. I have fewer headaches with them. They help me see street signs so I don’t have to stand under them to read them. I am legally required to wear them if I drive. I don’t always wear them at home and take them off at my desk to read. I can walk around safely without them. I use them to see things at a distance more clearly.

People would tell me that I shouldn’t use a cane if I don’t need one. It’s a crutch. (It’s a cane, actually.) It makes me look disabled. Insurance companies often won’t cover power wheelchairs if the person can take even a single step inside their own home. There’s a lot of cultural narrative and medical narrative about only using mobility devices if they are 100% absolutely necessary.

But there’s no similar cultural narrative about eyeglasses. No one would ever tell me not to wear glasses because I can see without them. (Actually I don’t think there is any person who can’t see at all without glasses, who can see even some with them. Eyes don’t work that way.) Glasses, even part-time glasses, are pretty acceptable in the society in which I live. It’s OK to put them on when helpful and removing them when not.

This distinction fascinates me. What, really, is the difference between a cane and eyeglasses? They both can decrease pain and increase ease and efficiency in life. More people benefit from glasses. Is that the only real difference, the only reason that glasses are “OK” but hearing aides, canes, wheelchairs are not?

The Social Model of disability would say that disability occurs with the interaction between a person’s impairment and society expectations. Society expects that some people will wear glasses to see better and that making the choice to wear glasses does not imply anything deeper about a person in most circumstances. Society says that people who cannot walk as expected are a different sort of person, a lesser sort of person, and so someone shouldn’t look like or be that sort of person unless absolutely necessary.

Absolutely necessary. Why are other things not held up to that same level of scrutiny? I have an apartment full of other things I want but don’t need, that I find useful or even just ornamental but not necessary. I don’t need a food processor. I don’t need jewelry. Why should I have to need a cane?
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