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White Canes: Confidence boosters for blind users

Association of Blind Citizens of New Zealand and Royal New Zealand Foundation of the Blind

14 October 2004

White Canes: Confidence boosters for blind users and friendly alert for Motorists and Sighted Pedestrians Page 1 of 2

Thousands of blind and vision-impaired kiwis rely on white canes to help them venture forth in confidence and safety.

Carolyn Weston, National President, Association of Blind Citizens of New Zealand (ABC NZ) says, “I was born blind and have used a white cane most of my life. To an experienced user it is a sensitive transmitter of information, for example, it signals the presence of obstacles and changes in contour. It gives me the confidence to go ahead.”

Adds Chris Orr, Royal New Zealand Foundation of the Blind (RNZFB) Blindness Awareness Team leader: “For me the white cane is not a symbol of dependence but independence. It helps the blind and vision-impaired person with mobility and sends a signal to sighted people.”

International White Cane Day, on October 15, is devoted to reminding sighted people to exercise simple courtesy and common sense in approaching a blind person using a cane.

The white cane became synonymous with blindness in 1921 through the efforts of a photographer in the UK who had lost his vision.

In 1930, a Lions Club member watched as a man who was blind attempted to cross the street with a black cane that was barely visible to motorists against the dark pavement. The Lions Club decided to paint the cane white to make it more visible. In 1931, the Lions Clubs International adopted the promotion of white canes for blind people as a national programme in North America.

Today, the RNZFB instructs blind and vision-impaired people on how to use a cane to get around, and in fact, more people choose to use a cane than a guide dog.

Only a small percentage of white cane users are totally blind. Most have some functional vision and use the cane for added confidence and safety.


White Canes: Confidence boosters …Page 2 of 2

If you are a sighted person, White Cane Day is a good time to:

Pay special attention to white cane users. Cut back low hanging branches over footpaths. Move obstacles from footpaths. Ensure cars are not parked on the footpaths. At pedestrian crossings, stop for white cane users.

These simple acts can make a significant difference in the lives of blind and vision-impaired citizens.

ABC NZ is a national organisation of, and for, blind citizens of New Zealand. Founded in 1945, ABC NZ has branches throughout New Zealand. It advocates on blindness-related issues, assists government and health agencies, utilities and other organisations in improving services to blind people. The RNZFB is New Zealand’s primary service provider for blind, vision-impaired and deafblind people. Every year nearly 1,500 New Zealanders either go blind or experience serious sight loss.


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