As I See It

By Ellen Hillstrom

I was given a white cane a few years ago to assist me with my low vision. I immediately put it in my closet, knowing my vision was not THAT bad. Besides, it would be extremely embarrassing if folks around Venice would see me, gossip about me, and feel sorry for me. They might say, "I knew her when she was healthy!"

Last December, I went on a cruise and decided that to be safer on a wavy ship, perhaps I should carry the white cane for balance. I thought nobody I know would be on that ship anyway. Plus, my doctor advised me that taking a fall could be very possible, and for my own safety, I should use the cane. I needed it every day. Upon my return home, the cane began to grow on me. In my neighborhood, it would not be too bad if a few people saw me with the cane, so I use it now for my daily, half-mile walks near the house. Last week, I even ventured out to a restaurant with friends and forgot to leave the cane at home. My driver told me to fold it up for my own safety while the car was in motion. No one at the restaurant paid any attention at all. When I confessed my anxiety to another friend, she answered sternly, "Ellen, get over it!" I am trying.

The Lighthouse of Manasota provides training in skills that promote self-sufficiency and independence in the lives of individuals who have vision loss. In early March, several of our members of the Venice Chapter of the Blind attended their open house where they announced the opening of its new store called "The Peepers." The public can now select items for the visually impaired, such as magnifiers, closed-circuit readers, sunglasses, computer accessories, and much more. The store is housed at the Lighthouse, located at 7318 North Tamiami Trail, Sarasota, Florida. Their phone number is 941-359-1404. They also have a monthly newsletter to which you may subscribe.

The Lighthouse has many services, including a book club, chair yoga, computer club, information workshops, and, of course, personal counseling. I will need counseling on the proper height and type of white cane that is best for me now that I have become friends with my loaner.

Our chapter received a $1500 grant from the Venice Lions Club, and we attended the awards dinner in April. It is amazing to see all of the volunteer work that one local club does by giving so much of their time and funds to assist other organizations. Thank you, Lions, thank you again. In fact, because of the generous grant, our members attended the state convention in Jacksonville, and two will attend the ACB national convention in Minneapolis.

Our own chapter is busy and thriving, although we are always looking for new members – visually impaired or sighted – who support our mission to strive for the betterment of the visually impaired and blind citizens in the Englewood, Venice, and North Port communities.

I will be celebrating my 82nd birthday on May 24 in Tuscaloosa, Alabama to visit with two sisters (and introduce them to my use of a white cane!).

Ellen Hillstrom is the current president of the Venice Chapter, Florida Council of the Blind. You may contact her at