By Theresa Sweeney-Smith
The tool that is the sign of independence for those of us with low vision or blindness is celebrating its 51st year of notoriety on October 15, 2015 with the national proclamation of “White Cane Safety Day.”
Although the white cane cannot offer the same type of friendship and loyalty as its living counterpart, the guide dog, it is used by millions of people every day as a tool of independence.
I am traditional in many ways. I have a husband, home, family, job and enjoy hobbies like hiking and volunteering. The unique thing about me is that I use my white cane to get around when I go for walks or am in unfamiliar territory.
In this day and age, I have adaptive technology available to me that allows me to support my traditional way of life. There are laws that protect me as a white cane or guide dog user that are meant to keep me safe and independent. With all of these advances, the thing that stumps me the most is human nature. People still react to a tool of independence like the white cane in a variety of ways.
If they have known someone in their life who is not visual, they may politely ask me if I need assistance. This is greatly appreciated especially if I am in unfamiliar surroundings.
People unfamiliar with blindness sometimes become nervous and decide I look uncertain or confused. They feel the need to take charge by grabbing my arm and giving me direction. This makes me uncomfortable and I may be resistant which makes them feel bad as they are “just trying to help.”
Worst of all are the folks that are probably staring at me but avoid me all together. They most likely are unsure of how to ask me if I need assistance, don’t want rejection or maybe they are worried that I will cling on to them and then how do they get rid of me?
A new friend from church said she was wide-eyed when I took out my cane to go to communion as she didn’t know I was blind. After church we began talking about a recipe and our families. From then on we sat together.
She told me with her warm and smiling voice, “You know, you are my only blind friend so far!” I responded, “Really?” She said, “Yes and now I forget that you are blind!” I again responded, “Really?”
She said, “I have seen people with white canes and guide dogs before, but the only question I could think of was, ‘How did you lose your vision?’ I said, “That is a very common question. She said, “Do you realize that I have never asked you that question?”
I have had the pleasure of meeting a lot of people who have low vision or are blind. We have built relationships just like the ones I have with my sighted friends and family. Everyone brings something unique into my life.
White Cane Safety Day to me is about communication and awareness. It is understanding that blind people just use different tools to get the same job done. We appreciate considerate people especially when we are crossing streets, in parking lots or are in unfamiliar surroundings.
Some things to consider as we celebrate “White Cane Safety Day:”
- Be aware
- Look around for us when driving
- Inquire if you think we need assistance
- Notice our accomplishments
- Do share our message!
Theresa Sweeney-Smith lives in Wind Lake, Wisconsin with her husband.