Written July 2001

When To Use A Cane


Leonard A. McHugh

There has been a lot of discussion on the Yahoo! Club "Retinitis Pigmentosa" about people with RP driving: (see message #865 posted 06/25/01 and replies) I thought about adding my thoughts on that news group but decided this may be a better place. I realize that the topic has nothing in common with driving but I do feel that the lesson I learned is appropriate.

Many years ago I requested some mobility training. I was able to travel in very familiar environments without the use of a cane. As I was losing more of my vision independent travel was becoming difficult.

One day I was going to leave my office building for a lunch break. I had no idea that there was a man standing on a ladder cleaning windows. This ladder was erected directly in front of two large heavy brass doors with glass panes from top to bottom.

I was walking directly for these doors. Lucky, someone yelled to me to stop. When the situation was under control the person who stopped me started laughing. He said "You should have seen the expression on his face!" If I had gone through those doors the ladder would have been knocked out from under him, since he did not have the door locked or barricaded.

A few days later, I talked to the mobility instructor telling him that story. I asked him what could happen if I would have made him fall. He didn't know the answer and later proposed it to his department lawyers.

It took a team a few weeks to research and come to a conclusion. The first question I was asked was if I was using my cane. When I told him no, it was explained that I would be totally responsible for his injuries.

It was explained that the cane has more than one purpose. It is not only for my safety but also to identify myself as having a visual problem. He then went on to say that if I had been carrying my cane the liability would shift totally to the man on the ladder. He explained that I would have done everything I could to protect myself including identification, whereas the man on the ladder did nothing to protect himself.

I am not positive, but I would suspect the same logic would apply to someone driving. The fact that they are aware of their limitations and yet continue to place themselves and others at risk is not only a moral issue but a legal one as well. The ramifications can be costly and not worth the chance.

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