White Cane Safety Day
by Jo Elizabeth Pinto
Today, October 15, is National White Cane Safety Day.
White canes were introduced in the United States after World War I as a way of assisting visually impaired pedestrians with independent travel. Canes also helped motorists identify and yield to people using them because they were easy to see and recognize, and their use has been protected by law since that time.
However, before the 1960’s and the establishment of National White Cane Safety Day, if a blind pedestrian got involved in an accident, he or she could be charged with contributory negligence simply for walking on a public street unescorted, thereby putting himself or herself and others at risk. Can you imagine that?
White Cane Safety Day has been celebrated almost every year since former President Lyndon B. Johnson set it aside in 1964. The day was to honor the achievements of blind and visually impaired people and to educate the public about their symbol of blindness and tool of independence, the white cane.
In the first White Cane Safety Day Proclamation, Lyndon Johnson said in part, “A white cane in our society has become one of the symbols of a blind person’s ability to come and go on his own. Its use has promoted courtesy and opportunity for mobility of the blind on our streets and highways.”
During most years since 1964, succeeding presidents have continued to proclaim October 15 as White Cane Safety Day. In 2000, Bill Clinton said, “With proper training, people using the white cane can enjoy greater mobility and safety by determining the location of curbs, steps, uneven pavement, and other physical obstacles in their path. The white cane has given them the freedom to travel independently to their schools and workplaces and to participate more fully in the life of their communities. It reminds us that the only barriers against people with disabilities are discriminatory attitudes and practices that our society has too often placed in their way.”
In 2011, President Barack Obama also gave White Cane Safety Day another name. He began calling the holiday Blind Americans Equality Day.
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