The use of long sticks and staffs by blind and visually impaired pedestrians has evolved over the years. They are simply an extension of the arm and allow the user to identify …
The use of long sticks and staffs by blind and visually impaired pedestrians has evolved over the years. They are simply an extension of the arm and allow the user to identify upcoming hazards by utilizing their senses of touch and sound. These sticks, referred to as white canes in modern times, are used both as tools and symbols in the blindness community. White canes allow blind and visually impaired individuals to travel safely over all types of terrain and around unseen obstacles. They also serve as a symbol of the independent spirit exhibited by their users. With proper Orientation and Mobility training, a white cane user can virtually travel safely in most any environment. Most white canes these days have a broad red band at the bottom which provides contrast for better public recognition.
The “white” cane was first introduced in France in the early 1920s and into society in the United Kingdom by some Rotary Clubs in the early 1930s. Proactive ventures of Lions Clubs International in Illinois and Michigan during the early 1930s are attributed with starting white cane observances in the United States. Local and statewide proclamations began to appear across the country identifying the white cane as the universally recognized symbol of blind travelers. Advocacy efforts on the part of many independent organizations and state vocational programs eventually culminated in our nations’ Capitol in October of 1964 with a Congressional resolution and subsequent approval by President Lyndon B. Johnson declaring Oct. 15 of each year as White Cane Safety Day. President Bill Clinton later reemphasized this in 2001 within his annual proclamation. Governors and mayors also make similar proclamations in observance of White Cane Safety Day all across the country. White Cane Safety Day is also observed internationally on Oct. 15 under the auspices of the World Blind Union.
The intent of these proclamations is to heighten the awareness of vehicular drivers when encountering pedestrians using white canes and/or dog guides on streets, roads, and highways. These pedestrians have the right-of-way in all cases. Their white canes and/or dog guides allow them to safely navigate their desired route of travel. They are in control and do not need extra help from drivers distracting them by honking or screaming unsolicited instructions. Hand gestures by drivers fall on “blind eyes” and demonstrate unawareness and lack of respect towards white cane travelers. Drivers are encouraged to be considerate and patient. Drivers of some of the newer vehicles that may be battery powered, which make no sound, need to be very cautious because white cane travelers do not even know you are there. Courteous drivers and alert white cane travelers can usually coexist with mutual respect and common sense.
State laws protect the rights of white cane travelers everywhere. It is a misdemeanor for a driver of any vehicle to injure a pedestrian traveling with a white cane or dog guide. Penalties and fines are imposed for these offenses. The Wyoming Council of the Blind is currently studying our state’s white cane laws in an effort to rectify and update the existing inequities found in statute and in drivers training manuals.
Those of us within the blindness community do not think of ourselves as being disabled or handicapped. Yes, blindness is a disability. How we embrace and adapt to this disability is a testimony to our individual courage and resolve to maintain our independence. Our white canes allow us the necessary mobility to take a very important step towards this end.
Wyoming Council of the Blind