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  • Writer's pictureSarah Caltieri

"Seeing is not always believing"

Updated: Mar 24, 2021

Seeing is not always believing

I have one question - where did you get your beliefs about members of society who use a white or in my case “punked” up cane? And did you know that ninety seven percent of people who do use them still have some useful vision? And does it occur to you that if someone is out in the huge wide world using a cane, they need to be extremely smart with wits about them to survive (in other words, we use other skills for survival and don’t just fling ourselves out into the wilderness and hope for the best)... I ask because since my journey as a real “human bat” I have experienced the most shall we say...interesting reactions, when really all I’m trying to be is just part of the world.

Amongst the list of some of the things I’ve climbed up!

Dis-empowering somebody without realising

So, to illustrate my point: the other week I was waiting in a taxi queue with a train station assistant in Essex. A black cab pulled up, and he and the driver communicated through the open window of the cab, after which the assistant told me (while I was still in the queue), that the taxi driver had said I should get into the one behind him then drove off. “Why?” I asked, “because he said the step is lower for you”, was the assistant’s response. “WHAT???” I replied.

So, as a fully grown, independent woman who has travelled the country, climbed up mountains, attended some of the biggest festivals in Europe amongst other things. Oh… and lived and worked in Edinburgh, the city of many steps. And I am not able to climb into a taxi?? I felt so embarrassed and infuriated, especially as there was a queue of people watching the whole scenario, that I got into another cab wishing I’d got over my embarrassment enough to say something to the cab driver.

No, it’s not ok anymore

“He was just trying to help.” My current cab driver said to me. I know he was, but I’m afraid that is an unacceptable excuse. Over the years, I’ve had to have various forms of counselling on a regular basis due to so many people’s misconceptions of my capabilities. The constant drip drip of people’s assumptions: “Oh that won’t be suitable for you.” “Here’s a nice card, but it may be too expensive for you”. ‘We all have dreams Sarah, but you should try something more realistic.” Remarks about my work: “You’re not blind enough to play this role.” “If we let you on, how will you manage, it could be dangerous.” “She’s blind.” “Is she really blind?” (whispers on the street as I walk past) “What’s wrong with your eyes?” ( a question asked by more or less every new person I meet) “You look so beautiful for someone who is blind.” This is on top of being grabbed and approached by various people asking if I needed help while walking down a street minding my own business when changing underground stations. When one of them actually put her arm round me and asked if I needed help I had just reached the end of my tether and screamed “Will you just f’g leave me alone.” And on...and on....and on it goes.

How I see myself

AS A ROCKSTAR! Apart from that, I made more of a life for myself after being registered blind. I decided to follow my dreams of becoming a professional actress and singer, and worked with hundreds of amazing people. I just aimed high and worked out how to survive in the world with my different vision. After enduring years and years of other people’s doubts, negative attitudes and lack of respect, and not knowing who I was anymore, I decided to focus on being positive, nurturing my talents whilst channeling my frustration into creativity and trying to assist good causes, releasing the anger, and, most importantly, forgiving people who did not understand what life is like from my perspective.

Exception to the ‘rules’

I was nearly squashed by a silent bus swinging into Glasgow Central once. A gentleman very suddenly physically hauled me out of the way so I didn’t die. No problem. He took the initiative and I was very grateful. Where did you get your beliefs about people who use a cane to manoeuvre around the world? The mere expression “blind person” immediately segregates people. When I’m walking down a street and someone walks past saying “It’s a blind person” it immediately makes me feel that I’m on the “outside” and not part of “your world” or “our world”. My name is Sarah. And I have to use a “punked up” cane to feel my way with. That’s all. Please don’t make me feel lonely and isolated by making assumptions on my behalf because of misguided education about cane users or fear.

The lesson returned

Well, some say that lessons return and come back again if we don’t deal with them the first time round. Last night, I came back from London to be assisted me by the same person who had witnessed the black cab incident. He escorted me to the rank. A black cab pulled up, and he leaned in and said something to the driver, turned to me and said “He said you should get in at the back”. “Wait a minute, is he the same driver I had a few weeks ago who took it upon himself to make a life decision for me?” “Yes.” “Right, I’m going back to have a word with him and put him right about a few things.” The driver got out of his cab. “Could I ask a question?” I politely asked. “Why is it that you think I am incapable of stepping into your cab?” “ I just thought it would be easier for you.” “Why?” I asked, “You humiliated me the other week and you’re doing it again now. You’re making a decision for me as if I’m invisible. You haven’t even asked me for my opinion. You know, I’ve been up Mount Vesuvius, danced on some big stages across the UK, and in the middle of the biggest fire festival in Europe on top of a stone monument. Oh, and I’ve lived in Edinburgh. Do you think I might be capable of stepping in to a taxi?” “What’s Edinburgh got to do with it?” he replied. “Well, everything is up and down steps there. And I have lived up flights of stone ones. Anyway, you have lost a customer. I would prefer to travel and give my business to people who actually acknowledge my existence. Goodbye.”

I felt very proud of myself for staying calm and getting that off my chest, which visibly puffed up as I sensed the wonder and admiration of the ear-wigging people in the taxi-rank queue. Sarah with the punk canes is back with a vengeance!

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