White Cane Day: “Baby, You’re a Firework, Let Your Colors Burst”

The ability to travel independently is important to the ultimate success of people who have vision loss. The white cane is not only a tool but is also a symbol for independence. Today we celebrate International White Cane Safety Day with these reflections from Joe Strechay.

Joe Strechay By Joe Strechay

It’s that time of year again, and I think it is time to “let it shine,” as Katy Perry sings in her hit song, “Firework,” which strikes me as a good anthem for this year’s White Cane Day. I am Joe Strechay and I am the American Foundation for the Blind’s CareerConnect Program Manager. I am also a person who is blind or visually impaired, and I use a white cane as a tool to allow me to travel through my environment.

I was listening to the radio the other day and Katy Perry’s “Firework” came on. I have heard the song so many times, but didn’t think about it too much. My wife tells me the music video has a positive message about teens being brave and being true to themselves—celebrating self-confidence.

White Cane Day is all about creating awareness in the community about persons traveling using a white cane. It allows the public to be more aware about people who are blind or visually impaired, and the fact that the white cane means something. White Cane Day provides a forum to create awareness for all children and adults with vision loss. Creating awareness helps us give drivers a wakeup call—wake up and don’t hit me with your car! As a parent, I am sure you experience bad and distracted drivers, which are even more dangerous for pedestrians who are not in a car.

It takes a level of comfort, self-confidence, and understanding for our kids to get out there with their white canes. A level of adjustment, too, as most persons with vision loss can attest to. Children battle the same issues.

Katy Perry sings, “As you shoot across the sky, you are a firework,” which is right on. I think when a person is a competent traveler with a white cane, they shine like a “firework.”

We don’t always appreciate the services that we have access to in the United States, for the most part. Not all countries have the same access to these services from trained professionals (not that all areas are created equal). There are organizations out there such as Ability Beyond the Horizons, which is a non-profit that works to train professionals in developing nations to be orientation and mobility instructors. This organization is a small non-profit started by Mickey Damelio, the Orientation and Mobility Program Coordinator at Florida State University. Mickey and I discussed the need for such an organization while canoeing in Tallahassee, FL, a number of years ago. Mickey made this happen, and has spent the last two summers training orientation and mobility instructors in two locations in India.

In the United States, children in public schools can be provided with these services with appropriate documentation in their Individual Education Plan. Students are not always excited about having to take orientation and mobility lessons in school or in the community, but it is a must for students who need to learn these skills. These orientation and mobility skills are utilized throughout our lives to allow us to be a part of our community, work, and participate in recreational activities.

Our kids should be out there using buses, with proper training and coaching about being safe. It is important for us to trust our children to be out in the community. It takes a level of trust for parents to allow their children to get out there and experience life.

If your area does not have buses and other types of public transportation available, then I believe it is important to provide your children with the opportunity to experience these transportation options, whether it is on a school or organization-sponsored trip, or some kind of vacation. I have known families who took coach bus services to cities, stayed in hostels, and all for the purpose of allowing their child to experience different types of transportation. All families do not have the same financial capabilities, but there are creative ways to create these opportunities for our children.

Utilize the FamilyConnect Directory of Services and Calendar of Events and find out if there are any White Cane Day activities in your area that you and your family can participate in. Tell your child to be a “Firework” and “Let it shine!”