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White Cane Day: give blind pedestrians a fair go

White Cane Day A reminder to give blind pedestrians a fair go

Despite using distinctive white canes – a symbol recognised around the developed world - many blind people continue to be bumped, grazed, disorientated or shaken by incidents with vehicles.

Too often, the white canes used by blind, deafblind and vision-impaired people are actually broken by motorists failing to give way or intruding into pedestrian crossings and other legitimate crossing spaces. And by trying to ‘beat’ changing lights, some drivers endanger disabled people who are trying to cross the road as quickly and safely as they can.

“One of the biggest problems faced by blind pedestrians occurs when motorists intrude past the stop lines at crossings or fail to look properly at multiple lane zebra crossings,” says Chris Orr, RNZFB Blindness Awareness and Prevention Team leader. “I have a guide dog, but I also frequently use my white cane. It seems to me that motorists give me a wider berth when I am with Quinnell (his guide dog) than they do when I am using the white cane, but both are mobility aids. Blind people would really appreciate it if motorists would pay special attention to people with white canes and give them a bit more consideration.”

Clive Lansink, Vice President of the Association of Blind Citizens of New Zealand was born blind and has used a white cane all his life. Clive says: “My white cane gives me information and therefore I know when I’m in familiar surroundings. With the aid of my white cane, I can identify and negotiate obstacles in my pathway and will be aware of changes in contour; for example it enables me to distinguish between the road and footpaths and most importantly my cane allows me to walk with confidence.”

International White Cane Day is a global event held every October 15. It’s utilised to promote public awareness of the white cane and to remind sighted people of the need to exercise simple courtesy and common sense when approaching a blind person using a white 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. International White Cane Day was first observed on 15 October 1964.

The RNZFB now instructs blind, deafblind and vision-impaired people on how to use a cane to get around, and in fact, more people use a cane than a guide dog. A small percentage of white cane users are totally blind. Many have some functional vision and use the cane for added safety and confidence.

International White Cane Day is a good opportunity to:

Pay special attention to white cane users

- Cut back low hanging branches
- Move obstacles from footpaths
- Ensure cars are not parked on or across footpaths (especially in driveways or entrances to buildings)

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 Royal New Zealand Foundation of the Blind, founded in 1890, is New Zealand’s primary service provider for blind, deafblind and vision-impaired people. Every year nearly 1200 New Zealanders join the Foundation.

ENDS

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