Student Voices: Kashmere Crystal Bling

PTCB student, Kashmere, teaching the basic concept of Braille to Anne using a peg board.
PTCB student, Kashmere, teaching the basic concept of Braille to Anne using a peg board. When this photo was taken, Kashmere had just recently learned all the alphabet in Braille. Photo credit: Pacific Training Centre for the blind/Blind People in Charge

Editor’s Note: The first full week in February is White Cane Week in Canada, an opportunity to share in the abilities of blind and DeafBlind people from across the country. The following story was excerpted from the transcript of the panel titled “The Road Leads Back Home: The Pacific Training Centre for the Blind” that was presented at the CFB’s Vote of Confidence Convention in 2017. Elizabeth Lalonde, Executive Director of the Pacific Training Centre for the Blind, moderated the panel discussion, where students spoke about their experiences in the Blind People In Charge program at the Pacific Training Centre for the Blind, at the time a day program in Victoria, BC. This is a story about one of our past students, Kashmere Crystal Bling, her blinged out cane, and her independence journey. I felt it best to leave Kashmere’s words her own and let her tell her story below. By the way, no joke, Kashmere Crystal Bling is her real name. How awesome is that?

My name is Kashmere Crystal Bling. It’s very hard for me, but actually I’m doing pretty well, I feel. I’ve been a model all my life and I like to be looked at as a beautiful woman. But I once thought that using a white cane would make me feel ugly and look ugly. But actually, it didn’t.

I had to go away for a month to two weddings, one in Florida and one in New York. Going there alone was a challenge. But, thank god, I met Elizabeth and her school [the Pacific Training Centre for the Blind] and everyone.

I’ve always told people that I would never use a white cane. “No, no, no, that’s not going to be me.” But I had no choice. So I did get my cane. I practised with it and learned how to use the stairs, which was challenging but I did it. Thank you Elizabeth. That was a lot of work, but it was great. Walking out in the streets was fun. I also hit a homeless man with my cane on the ground that I did not know. But hey, we experienced it. It was an experience, but it was something that I had to do because it’s going to happen – it could be a homeless person or it could be someone else, right?

So, my U.S. trip challenge was going to the airport. I went around Christmas. I took my cane out. Oh, there’s one thing I forgot to mention. Being that my name is Bling, I’m all blinged out, I’m wearing all bling on my clothes, but my girlfriends were like, “Well, what can we do to make you use your cane?”

I said, “I don’t know.” So they took my cane and surprised me. They blinged it out. It has bling on the top, it has gold (my favourite colour), then white, then silver. Some of you may not know that I’m hearing impaired too. I wear hearing aids. I have retinitis pigmentosa (RP) and Usher’s Syndrome, so I see only through a pinhole in one eye and it’s blurry, the other eye unfortunately I lost in surgery. So the cool thing is, I found out in London, England about how they identify deaf-blind people – they have some red on their white canes – the red with the white symbolizes visually and hearing impaired.

Editor’s Note: Red and white striped canes are used by some people to identify themselves as both visually and hearing impaired or as DeafBlind. These striped canes are promoted by the World Federation of the Deafblind, among others. The red strip near the tip of many canes seen in Canada is, to my knowledge, done solely for visibility at night.

So my cane is striped in bling, gold, white, silver, gold, red, black and the same colours repeated all the way down.

So I took this cane with me to the airport. First time I pulled it out, first time using it in public by myself without a trainer or anyone. I had people come up to me and say, “Oh, my goodness, I love the candy cane.” “Oh no, this is my cane. I’m visually impaired.” They said, “You are? You don’t look it.”

I said, “Thank you. But no, seriously, I am.” One kid got in trouble by the mother. He was like, “Mom, mom, I want that candy cane.” Then the mother said, “Shh, shh, shh.” And I thought, OK, thank god I had my hearing aids on. I said, “Is it OK ma’am if I approach your son?” She said, “Sure.” I said, “Hi, this means…” and I explained my cane to him. He was looking at me. He had questions and I had to think about the answers before he asked me. Then he said, “If you’re blind, how did you see me standing here?” “I see a little bit, honey, a little.” He said, “OK.” Then he said, “If you’re deaf, how do you hear me ask you a question?” I said, “I’m not deaf, I’m hearing impaired.”

That was my first time. Honestly, I was scared to use the cane and that’s the truth. I didn’t used to feel beautiful with a cane, but then when my friends blinged it out and I had people approach me, I did feel beautiful for the first time in a long time.

So anyways, I navigated, got on the plane and everything was fine. The first wedding I went to was Miami, Florida and I had a bling dress on, of course, and I walked in with my cane. I had more people come up to me and compliment me with my cane, in using it, and how they thought, wow, you navigated so well through this whole entire reception. It was amazing – and I was proud of myself.

Going to New York – oh my gosh. Now, that city is busy, busy, busy. Wearing the hearing aids, it felt like a bomb was going off everywhere – it was just the crowds and the people and the honking. That’s a place where you would get scared, but you know, I didn’t. I actually got on the busiest street. Don’t ask me how, I just did and I brought my cane and I thought, oh, I don’t know if I can do it. I’ve never wanted to ask for help because I am so independent, but I was always scared to take that step forward. But, you know what? I walked straight through the downtown. I was walking and I was proud. Some people that I didn’t know were videotaping me. They actually told me so. They said, “You know what? I had to come up to you and say I videotaped you. Do you mind if I share this with my friends because I’ve never seen anyone so smiling and looking so good and so confident with their cane.” And I was proud of myself too, because I didn’t think I could do that. And I have to say, using the cane is important.

And I’m going to say something else that I learned. Being a model, I love shopping and then I stopped doing that because I was scared – I couldn’t see what I was doing; I was not giving the right amount of money; I was losing money; I was getting frustrated in the stores – and I couldn’t do it. That’s what I said, “I couldn’t, I couldn’t, I couldn’t.”

Since Elizabeth and the staff had taught me how to read money, it was amazing. I was so excited. I go to a motorcycle group that’s called a Thursday Night Bike Club and we sit there and they all support me, “How’s school? We’re glad you’re using your cane. We’re happy for you” and all that. I said, “You guys want to learn something?” And I didn’t think I’d ever be able to do this. I said, “Do you guys want to learn how to read money?” They said, “What?” I said, “Yeah.” So, I’ve got the fives, the tens, twenties, fifties and a hundred. They said, “She did learn.” They were so impressed with the short amount of time that I went to school and before I used to tell them, “I don’t want to go to the school, I don’t want to go, I don’t want to do this.” You know, I was so negative. I’ll tell you one thing, just by listening to how many people actually listened to me – I passed the money around, they were all like, “Oh, my god, this is exciting.” And then they asked, “What about coins?” I showed them. It was interesting and I was proud of myself. And that’s what I’m saying – I’m proud that I finally got out of my shell.

I’ve been well-known in the mall because I shop there. So for years, as soon as the security guards see me, they say, “OK, Kash, where would you like to go?” And, he’ll walk me and say, “Call me and I’ll come and get you.” You know what? It takes about 20 or 30 minutes before I get someone to come and pick me back up. Now that I have the cane, girlfriends, guys, you know what? I walk in there proud, I’m in and out of the mall within 20 minutes. Before I’d be in there maybe for three hours. I know where I’m going so now I don’t need to wait for security’s help.

Now I use my cane and I can pay money without being ripped off, you know? And, it feels good. So, thank you so much to the Pacific Training Centre. I love it and I hope everybody else that wants to learn will go to this school. It takes time, I mean, I’m still struggling with the sleepshades. But, listening to everybody’s stories, what you guys have said, I am feeling that too. Thank you for letting me share my story.

As Shauna, one of our other students and a frequent contributor to this blog, says, “Travelling should be fun and exciting.” In the travel class at the Bowen Island Centre for the Blind and DeafBlind, students will work with travel instructors to learn the skills they need to travel independently with their white canes. Traveling different environments, from the quiet streets of Bowen Island to the busy urban core of downtown Vancouver, combined with lessons in long-distance travel skills such as navigating airports, ferries, and busses will set students up to travel successfully, no matter where the journey of life takes them. One of their final assignments before graduation will be to plan a short trip to another city. This will help them put into practice many of the skills they have learned throughout the year.

You too can be a part of making the dream of a Canada where blind and DeafBlind people can live independently with dignity and success a reality by supporting the Bowen Island Centre for the Blind and DeafBlind capital project. Financial support is not the only kind of support a project like this needs. Sharing posts like this one on social media and helping to spread the word about the work we are doing to connect blind and DeafBlind people with the skills they need to be independent is also important.

If you would like to learn more about this project or would like to help in some other way, you are always welcome to reach out and get in touch.

Check out some more of our Student Voices and learn how blindness/DeafBlindness skills training has impacted their lives.