Fashion-Forward Accessibility

Cosplay is a relatively new hobby of mine. I didn’t expect it to help me reveal and address an aspect of blindness-related Anxiety. Nor did I ever imagine I’d be writing a blog post about Makeup. I’m not a fashion blogger. I certainly didn’t expect to find myself asking this question:

“Does this cane work with my outfit?”

I worked a service dog between 2009 and 2020. Before that, I used a cane. I first learned to use one at age 6, and began using it regularly in middle school. You’d think by now I’d know just about everything there is to know about being a cane-user. But I wore nothing but flats until 2020.

Turns out, wearing heels changes cane usage. Let me show you how.

Navigational Geometry

Humans navigate by gathering information about their immediate surroundings and making choices about paths, obstacles, risks, rewards, and terrain. Generally, this is done through the eyes. They have the widest and farthest range of human senses.

But the information gathered is more important than how that information is gathered. When the eyes are unavailable, humans learned they can extend the reach of their other senses using mobility aids. THe cane extends the sense of touch by several feet in a wide arc forward of the user.

Or, behind them. I used to be able to wield a cane while walking backwards, pulling two suitcases, and carrying on a conversation.

It’s not a very precise, accurate, or effective means of replacing vision. It’s effectiveness is limited by both range and degree, and it takes a lot of practice to learn to interpret the information gathered by the cane and translated as pressure, force, and sound into the user’s hand and then to the brain.

There are other options, of course. People can pair their senses with other humans, with dogs, with artificial lenses and emerging technology for scanning and recognizing different environments, but the cane has been in use for millennia and is a pretty reliable tool. It deserves respect.

Cane users often achieve that flow-state connection to their canes that swordsmen dream of, where the cane feels like an extension of their own arms. They — we — become intimately familiar with how the cane vibrates wen it runs into metal versus wood,. They know when to slow down because the cane tip has signaled a stairway or a doormat. They know its weight, temperature variance, and its range, which is determined by its length.

Heels and the H

There’s some variety in cane styles out there, and because humans come in varying sizes, so do canes. Children usually go through several cane sizes as they grow, but adults will typically use the same cane length for most of their lives. Here’s an Article on how to pick out a cane that’s right for you, with an internal link to the National Federation of the Blind’s cane giveaway program.

Heels change a person’s height by a predictable amount. I’ve got a 1-inch pair of pumps, and a 2-inch pair of boots. You wouldn’t think that one or two inches would change how a cane functions too much, but it does. I wore those boots to a new church site and couldn’t figure out why I felt a marked increase in my discomfort when approaching the top of a flight of stairs.

A couple months later I took a trip with friends to the bizarre yet wonderful Unclaimed Baggage store, and I found a cane in the Clearance section. A cane! A long white collapsible mobility cane for the blind…who leaves their cane in their luggage? I suppose the unfortunate person who lost it had another mobility aid and this one was just a backup…

Anyway, I took it from its case, extended it, and measured it against my own. It was about 2 inches longer, exactly the right height for me when I wore those 2-inch boots.

Forgive me, I’m about to trigger flashbacks of middle-grade algebra.

A person standing on the ground forms a right angle with that ground. The cane, which is extended from the waist or midrif, forms the third side of a right triangle. In the image below the person is in mid-step, their feet separated. The line of force, or balance point that forms the right triangle would bisect the person from between the feet upward to form the right triangle.

The image shows a black silhouette of a person in mid-step extending a cane forward, on a white background.

If you add 2 inches to the height of that right triangle but don’t change the length of the hypotenuse, suddenly it doesn’t reach as far. In other words, if I wear heels, my cane can’t give me as much warning when I’m about to run into or fall off of something.

Two inches really does make a difference. Consider the length of your foot, and how taking a stair with the ball of the foot, the sole, or the heel completely changes your balance. Or how you find yourself catching your head or shoulder on the way in and out of a car when wearing an unfamiliar hat or coat. Two inches might be the difference between cracking your knee on the corner of a coffee table, or sailing right by it without difficulty.

If a girl’s gotta have shoes for every occasion, then she owes it to herself and those who care about her to accessorize with safety and mobility in mind.

Today your favorite blindfluencer wonders who will take up the challenge of coming up with designer-label mobility canes!

2 thoughts on “Fashion-Forward Accessibility

  1. Designer canes would be the same as regular ones, just with a 900-dollar logo.

    So can you explain more about temperature variance in a cane?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. “Temperature variance” is perhaps a slightly clumsy way of saying “how quickly heat transfers from hand to handle, or vice versa.” Cane handles can be made of different materials, and different bodies produce heat and moisture at different rates and quantities under different circumstances. For example, I’ve learned that I can, and should, wear gloves when working my old cane with the rubber grip because my hand never warms up unless it’s over 70 degrees. But other people know when to use fingerless, or even chalk or make their own grips because of excessive sweating.


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