I’m Barbara Smith, I am a representative of the Kingston Visual Impairment Parliament as MP for Independence.

We are a group of blind and partially sighted residents who raise awareness of issues for people living with sight loss, and we campaign for a more inclusive community.

I use a symbol cane when I go out to the shops or travel on public transport, which includes buses, trains and the London Underground.

A symbol cane is a small white cane that a blind or partially sighted person holds to let people around them know that they are partially sighted. It is not used to find obstacles or guide like other types of canes.

Buses are my main mode of transport, and I live close to several bus routes, but, depending on my destination, sometimes I have to cross main roads. This is where my symbol cane comes into action. I stand facing the traffic, cane across my body, as I was shown during my mobility training, and wait for a break in the traffic. I often think white cane awareness should be part of driving tests!

Image shows Barbara standing outside with her symbol cane.

[Barbara outside Kingston Centre For Independent Living, holding her symbol cane.]

I then have to get across two lanes of traffic, using zebra crossings. However, this can involve me taking my life in to my hands because while one lane may stop for me, it is possible that another car is coming up on the other side, totally unaware that I am crossing the road.

At the bus stop I stand and wait, cane in hand and when the bus arrives I board. Next challenge: finding a seat – will that school child give me a seat? Hmm, they might need a little prompting. Bus driver awareness of cane users varies from place to place. I have found that in some places, drivers stop when I have indicated, tell me the bus number and destination, to ensure I am on the right bus, going in the right direction. However, in other places, I find myself competing with every other potential bus passenger, and I sometimes receive confused responses when I sit on a disabled seat or ask a child to move. I have even been told: “I need that seat, I’m disabled” by people, even when other seats are available.

One of my worst experiences was getting on a crowded bus, with no seats available, so I stood at the front, holding onto a pole. A lady sitting in the front seat demanded that I move, saying: “I can’t see where we are going: there are seats at the back”.  My response was polite but icy, I explained that I couldn’t see that well and showed her my cane, which was on my arm. Her response astonished me, no apology just a look.

Although I sometimes have bad experiences, my symbol cane is really vital in helping me get out and about, and it helps to show people that I have limited vision. Fortunately, in this case a passenger who noticed I was partially sighted came forward and directed me to her seat, even though her journey was longer than mine. My faith in human nature restored; I was now able to complete my journey.

Find out how to get involved with Kingston Visual Impairment Parliament here.