Oct. 15, 2015 is White Cane Safety Day.
I’m collaborating with the Society for the Blind to write this blog post.
What is White Cane Safety Day?
The white cane is one of many orientation and mobility tools for people with vision loss.
In the US, President Lyndon B. Johnson signed a proclamation in 1964 declaring October 15 as White Cane Safety Day. In 2011, US President Barack Obama also named the day Blind Americans Equality Day.
So what’s the deal with the white cane?
I’m not blind. So to understand it, I spent a day with the Society for the Blind learning how to sense and navigate with a white cane. I learned that the cane is a fascinating tool. It extends your reach by a few feet, not just in front of you, but as you sweep it side to side, it extends your reach sideways too. It detects changes in texture. And the white cane helps the sighted user, by identifying a visually-impaired user to the sighted user.
Gregory DeWall, NOMC, Orientation and Mobility Instructor at the Society for the Blind in Sacramento shared his thoughts.
Q: What message would you like to convey to the general public?
Greg: “Provided the right skills training, support, and quality education, blind people can do just about anything. The long white cane is a critical piece to achieving independence. Mastery of the long white cane allows someone to go where they want, when they want, with the least amount of inconvenience to themselves and others. The long white cane identifies someone as visually impaired. It does not indicate the person using the cane is totally blind.
Many people who have partial or usable vision find it beneficial to use their long white cane when traveling. Due to receiving proper blindness skills training, blind people are accessing college campuses or walking into their jobs with their long white canes. We should be encouraging anyone we know who is visually impaired to participate in blindness skills training and become proficient with the long white cane.”
Q: What words of encouragement would you like to give to the newly-visually-impaired?
Greg: “Achieving independence is a process. It begins with taking control of your situation. Get in contact with resources and expose yourself to the visually impaired community. Provided the right resources and receiving blindness skills training can help limit blindness to an inconvenience. It’s true that people can be whoever they want to be, and do what they want. The visually impaired community is no exception to this.”
Q: What misconceptions do you experience?
Greg: “People in the blind community experience many misconceptions. Some are as simple as believing a blind person cannot care for a home or family; or that we automatically know Braille and our hearing is a super power. We are also presented with more serious misconceptions, such as we all live in an institution; or we can’t possibly become gainfully employed.”
Q: What’s your most interesting white cane story?
Greg: “I was blessed to have an opportunity to be in China with my family. Of course we walked on the Great Wall of China. A characteristic of the Great Wall is that each step is a different size. No one step is the same as the previous or next step. Many others, including my family were struggling with the inconsistency of the steps. But due to my long white cane, I had no trouble, and marched right up the wall. Using my long white cane allowed me to anticipate the level changes and step accordingly.
A similar situation happened in Lamanai, Belize. While with a tour group, I was one of six who decided to clime the Mayan ruin. I was unaware the other five climbing the ruin chose to hold a rope when walking up. Once at the top, I was able to use my cane to negotiate the narrow walking spaces and avoid the edge. Again on the way down, the other climbers chose to use the rope for support as they descended the steps. It was also brought to my attention the group walked down backwards while holding the rope. I was very comfortable using my long white cane and able to anticipate each step. My cane provided more security for me than the rope did for the other five climbers.”
Q: When confronting a blind person on the street, how would you like to be approached?
Greg: “When approaching a blind person on the street, or in public, communicate with words. Nobody likes be touched, or grabbed at, unsuspectingly. Someone who is blind also does not want to be touched or grabbed. We appreciate when people introduce themselves. Often people assume we need help when in public places. After introducing yourself, ask the blind person if they need assistance. Please don’t assume the visually impaired person needs help. But asking if help is necessary is harmless.”
Who is affected by blindness and visual impairment?
Statistics vary, depending on the source and definitions of blindness and visual impairment.
According to the World Health Organization, 285 million worldwide are affected. That’s 39 million blind, 246 million with low vision.
What can our readers do?
Help raise awareness by posting your observations on social media with hashtag #WhiteCaneSafetyDay.
If you are recently diagnosed as visually impaired, and don’t know where to turn, find your national organization, find your local resources, and discover the resources, support groups, and workshops available to you.
If you’re sight is fine, many of these organizations are non-profit or not-for-profit. Consider volunteering with that organization so they can further serve the growing population of those who need their services
Search for your local “resources for the blind and visually impaired.” Here are just a few leading organizations in several countries. It’s not an exhaustive list, just a start.
Australia – Vision Australia – visionaustralia.org
Canada – Canadian National Institute for the Blind – cnib.ca
India – National Association for the Blind (India) – abindia.org
United Kingdom – Royal National Institute of Blind People (United Kingdom) – rnib.org.uk
- American Foundation for the Blind – afb.org
- National Federation of the Blind (USA) – nfb.org
- National Industries for the Blind (USA) – nib.org
Special thanks to Shari Roeseler, Executive Director of the Society for the Blind for guiding my research.