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Why I Decorate My White Cane With Key Chains

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“Tap tap clink clink.” This is the not-so-subtle sound of me walking around, trying to live my life as independently as I can with my loyal, trusty white cane.

The tapping is the tip of the cane skimming the floor as I move it back and forth to detect potential obstacles, and the clinking is the sound of the key chains I have hanging from the string that holds my cane together when it is folded. You may be wondering why I decorate my cane with key chains, and you wouldn’t be the first. The truth is that I decorate my cane to make it uniquely mine, a unique cane for a unique individual. There are thousands of white canes, but the key chains set it apart from the others to go with my individual personality, showing that I am not just a blind girl, but I am a person with the same thoughts and feelings as everyone else, and my life and story are just as valuable.

This all started when I was at a school for the blind and I saw a friend who had key chains on her cane. I thought it was cute, but I wasn’t planning on doing it. Then two blind friends and I made matching friend ornaments and decided to put them on our canes. Once I did, I loved it because it was something on my cane that represented me, not just the blindness. It helped me accept the cane as a part of me, a part that will be loved and accepted by anyone who truly loves and accepts me, instead of a cause of suffering when people stare at me, point and make offensive remarks.

Then one night, I was sitting with the same friends, talking, laughing and listening to music like any other teenagers, and I felt a flash of anger. How dare people treat us as if we are inferior and don’t get to know the unique personality within each of us behind the disability? Most people don’t talk to me like everyone else because they see the disability, and suddenly that’s it. I can’t offer anything else. I am flawed and not good enough. I am defined by society’s expectations. Suddenly, I am a disability, not a person. Someone who needs to be looked after and talked down to. Someone to always be held at arm’s length because I am so different (note the sarcasm).

Brittany standing in the kitchen with her cane

I slowly started adding key chains on my cane. This adds a little bit of me to the cane, so it represents me, not just a disability. It became a form of self-expression. Each key chain has a story, like the red and green leather ornament with a maple leaf on it that matches my friend’s, a red sparkly heart that is from where my grandparents live that makes me happy and reminds me how much love I have to give and also holds my reward cards to various stores, and an owl that holds hand sanitizer because I thought it was cute.

Now my cane tells a story, so hopefully when someone looks at it, they see a person, not a disability. Hopefully it helps them recognize who I am apart from my blindness. I hope it reminds you that there is more than meets the eye. When you look at my cane from afar, it just looks like any other white cane, but when you take a closer look, a story will unfold itself to you in those key chains. Just like when you look at me from a distance you might just see “the blind girl,” as I have been called that many times, but when you look closer and get to know me, you see a sarcastic, witty, vivacious, perceptive girl who could be such a good friend to you if you give me a chance.

I have more to offer than my disability — more to offer than the person I would be if I went along with everyone’s expectations of what I can and can’t do. Next time you see a disabled person and want to generalize or demean them, remember my cane, and remember me. Always remember that there is more than meets the eye, if you take some time to look. I of all people know that well.

Originally published: February 4, 2016
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