WHITE CANE SAFETY by Modene Gaulke

[October 2019 | San Juan Silver Stage]

On October 6, 1964, a joint resolution of Congress was signed into law authorizing the President of the United States to proclaim October 15 of each year as “White Cane Safety Day.” President Lyndon Johnson was the first to make this proclamation.

Blind people have used canes as mobility tools for centuries, but it was not until after World War I that the white cane was introduced. In the United States, the introduction of the white cane is attributed to George A. Bonham of the Lions Club International. 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 decided to paint the cane white to make it more visible. Thus, in 1931, Lions Club International began a program promoting the use of white canes for people who are blind.

While organizations throughout the United States use this special day in October to enlighten the public, white cane users and people with low vision are faced with daily challenges year-round. The cane helps the user scan their surroundings for possible safety problems, but is also helpful in identifying the user to the public as blind or visually impaired.   In the United States, laws vary from state to state, but in all cases, those carrying white canes are afforded the right-of-way when crossing a road. They are afforded the right to use their cane in any public place as well. In some cases, it is illegal for a non-blind person to use a white cane with the intent of being given right-of-way.

Despite the efforts of organizations to educate the public, there are still those who don’t understand the meaning of a white cane. Recently, a local Montrose man carrying a white cane was in the checkout lane at a local store. When he realized he had forgotten something, he asked the clerk if she would please get it for him.  She pointed in the direction of an aisle directly behind him and said it was “right back there”, expecting that he could see where it was and that he would go get it himself. A traveling companion of the man asked the clerk if she knew what his white cane meant. She said she did not and was completely unaware that a person carrying a white cane is blind.

I, Modene Gaulke at The Center for Independence, work with people every day who have Age-Related Macular Degeneration, Glaucoma, Retinitis Pigmentosa, Diabetic Retinopathy, and other eye diseases. Some have been recently diagnosed, but some have had their eye condition for years. But, they all have one thing in common: they are eager to live life to the fullest. They want to be treated the same as everyone else and with the dignity they deserve. They have had to learn to cope with everyday life in ways that you or I have not had to do. Some of these folks have started a support group and have begun to meet monthly at the Center for Independence in Montrose. They learn from one another how to cope with everyday tasks and talk about their needs and the resources they use.

Anyone with a vision impairment is welcome to join the group as a consumer of the Center For Independence. We are a nonresidential, nonprofit, nonmedical agency that provides an array of independent living services to people of any age with any disability at no cost. Our core services are information and referral, individual and systems advocacy, independent living skills training, peer mentorship, and transition services. There are 9 such Centers in Colorado. Montrose has a satellite office of the main branch which is located in Grand Junction. Our office is at 245 S Cascade, Suite B. Anyone wishing more information about White Cane Safety or other low vision issues not medically-related may contact me, Modene Gaulke, Low Vision Program Coordinator, at the Center at 970-765-2016.

Lorraine Hutcheson is the only certified Vision Rehabilitation Therapist/Orientation & Mobility Instructor on the Western Slope. She is with the Department of Human Service’s Division of Vocational Rehabilitation (DVR) and can be reached at 970-248-7110. DVR also offers assistance to disabled people, including those with vision impairments. These services may include independent homemaking skills, training, equipment, travel skills instruction, career and job planning, and educational opportunities.

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