Celebrating White Cane Safety Day, October 15!

the author and two students wearing White Cane Safety Day t-shirts On October 15th, we will be celebrating White Cane Safety Day. This day has been set aside as a national observance since 1964 to celebrate the achievement of people who are blind or visually impaired and the importance of the white cane as a symbol of blindness and a tool for independence. It’s easy to find a lot of references on the web about this day, from Wikipedia, which explains the history behind this day, to regional celebrations describing events past, present, and future.

Although this observance has been in existence for almost 40 years, it has only been recently celebrated en masse, with different towns and cities holding different types of community activities on that day. Often times, annual t-shirts will be designed and worn by the participants. I’ve noticed on Facebook that Milwaukee will once again have a great turnout. On Youtube, you can enjoy video from the great flash mob they had last year.

This year, in Austin, as in the past, from students to adults, we will walk, many with white canes, about 10 blocks from the state capitol to City Hall where we’ll listen to various speakers from the political and private sectors. Afterward, we will continue to celebrate by walking to a nearby park to have lunch and socialize. As with other cities and towns, a t-shirt design for this year was drawn by a student and selected by the White Cane Day committee. As a matter of fact, this event is so well organized that planning meetings begin only weeks after the latest event!

So, why have a White Cane Safety Day? First off, we instructors always referred to it as White Cane Day and the word around the office was that it was to make the sighted public, specifically drivers, more aware of travelers with visual impairments when they are crossing streets. Of course, as drivers we’re supposed to watch for ALL pedestrians!

An individual who is blind or visually impaired traveler has more than likely had formal training from an orientation and mobility specialist. Years ago, graduates from the first University O&M Program in the U.S. called themselves peripatologists, a five-dollar word which comes from the Greek peripateo meaning “to walk.” Today, we more commonly consider ourselves orientation and mobility specialists.

Orientation and Mobility as a profession was first provided to blinded war veterans after World War II at the Hines VA Hospital in Illinois. Subsequent training then began with other adults and moved into the school setting. Most students who were blind and visually impaired matriculated at the schools for the blind throughout the country. As more universities offered O&M programs, more college graduates were available to teach it and more students were able to receive it at an earlier age. O&M instruction for babies began on a small scale in the 70s but has only within the past 10 years or so become more prevalent. Even today some students with visual impairments are not receiving O&M due to lack of instructors.

If you’re interested in knowing more about White Cane Safety Day or White Cane Day, I encourage you to check out the different events happening around the country. If you search for White Cane Day, you’ll also see the event page for Austin, and its Facebook page. If ever you or anyone is interested in starting a White Cane Day I’d be more than happy to direct you to someone who could offer some great advice! What do you have planned for tomorrow?