Blind 7-year-old girl banned from using her walking cane at school

Nov 17, 2015 at 1:17 p.m. ET

Today in decisions that make absolutely no sense, a school in the U.K. has asked a 7-year-old student named Lily-Grace to refrain from using the cane that helps her get around independently while she is on school grounds.

Lily-Grace Hooper is visually impaired. She had a stroke when she was only 4 days old, which left her without vision in her right eye and the ability to see only light and color in her left. Recently she started using a white cane to get around, fostering the happy, bright child's independence and mobility, especially at her school, Hambrook Primary School in Bristol.

Surely no one could have a problem with that, right? The further we get from stigmatizing individuals with vision and hearing impairments, the better. When kids like Lily-Grace can utilize the same spaces as their sighted peers, such as schools, that's a huge step in the right direction.

Unfortunately not everyone agrees.

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Instead the school, after performing a "risk assessment" that determined Lily-Grace's white cane to be a "high risk" to her fellow students, is asking that Lily-Grace forgo the cane completely and rely on handrails and helpful adults to get around school.

That's ludicrous. What's more ludicrous is that this is, apparently, a preemptive measure. Kristy Hooper, Lily-Grace's mother, told The Bristol Post that, "She hasn't had any problems with any of the other students, and none of the parents have complained about it — in fact they have all been very supportive."

So essentially Hooper is being asked to forgo her independence and be singled out because something might possibly happen sometime in the near or distant future.

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The whole thing is so counterproductive. Lily-Grace is fine. She has a supportive mother, friendly classmates and is happy at school. Her disability doesn't define her, and her white cane has been instrumental in making that happen for her. So why take that away? What about Lily-Grace's safety? Not just the physical safety that a white cane can help provide, but the emotional safety that independence provides?

It's not as though the 7-year-old uses her cane to whack her classmates around. She uses it as an assistive device, and even at her age, she's grasped what the adults are having trouble with: A white cane is not a toy. It's a tool, and one she's come to depend on.

If the school is worried about keeping kids safe from Lily-Grace's unobtrusive cane, then why not take the opportunity to teach the other students about courtesy and etiquette around blind individuals? They're sure to encounter at least a few more in their lifetime, and literally no harm is done by teaching them to treat the visually impaired with the respect you'd give anyone else. It shouldn't be a novel idea.

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Blind etiquette isn't even a tough thing to teach. The Perkins School for the Blind boiled it down to six easy concepts, most of which, when you think about them, aren't even any different from how you would treat anyone else (which is kind of the point):

  1. Ask before attempting to assist a blind person, because it's rude to grab people, period, but ruder if the person you're grabbing can't see you.
  2. Allow them to grasp your arm at the elbow if they do want your help.
  3. Warn individuals of dangers like cars and curbs in clear, explicit language. Screaming out "watch out!" is unproductive and, frankly, won't warn someone of danger so much as scare their pants off.
  4. Make your presence known when you enter a room, and say goodbye when you leave. You would do it anyway, whether a person is blind or sighted.
  5. Don't pet guide dogs, something most kids already know.
  6. Treat people with blindness as actual people, because they are.

That's it. Nowhere does it say that people with visual impairments are incapable of making sound decisions and can't be trusted with their own assistive devices, therefore requiring sighted people to act in their best interest.

Lily-Grace has her mother to do that, and it's clear she'll continue to do so. That could include fighting the school on this ill-advised decision and ensuring that her daughter will maintain her independence with her white cane in hand.