Blind World Magazine

A declaration of blindness and independence.

100 Mile House Free Press, Canada.
Wednesday, May 17, 2006.

Carrying a white cane is a declaration of both blindness and independence. A person must be legally blind to use the symbolic cane, but legal blindness does not mean total blindness. Most people who are legally blind have some usable vision.

That's the case with South Cariboo youth Ben Johnson who can make out objects, which are very close, but the rest of his visual world is a blur. His white cane gives him freedom to go almost anywhere and, while he knows what the cane signifies, Johnson is reminded almost daily how little the general public knows.

"I've had more than a few close calls at crosswalks, with cars not stopping when I try to cross the street," said Johnson. "I don't think they know what I'm saying with my cane."

Legally blind people have the right-of-way at street crossings. Motorists must come to a complete stop when a pedestrian is using a dog guide or white cane.

Many sighted pedestrians are confused when they see a person with a white cane or dog guide, especially if the person seems to have some usable vision, Johnson added.

When in doubt, he suggests fellow pedestrians ask if the person needs assistance, but don't grab the person or his cane.

There are a variety of white canes depending on a person's visual impairment, age, height and specific needs. There are two main types of white canes used by legally blind people.

A white support cane with red at the bottom is designed to identify a person as legally blind but has usable travel vision. This cane is used to assist with depth perception on stairs or curbs.

A long white cane with red at the bottom is for independent travel and to avoid obstacles.

There are a number of do's and don'ts to consider when a motorist comes across a pedestrian with a dog guide or a white cane:

Don't call out "it's O.K. to cross." A motorist may not have considered all the factors before giving the "all clear." For example, you stopped your car but the person passing you in the next lane may not. A blind person listens to all traffic sounds before deciding to cross.

Don't engage a visually impaired traveller in conversation even if you know them. It requires skill and concentration to cross an intersection and a friendly greeting may distract them. Wait until they have crossed the street.

Don't wait too long for a blind pedestrian to cross the street. The sound of an idling engine "waiting" at the intersection puts pressure on the blind people to cross the street when they are not ready. When it becomes evident they aren't going to cross, "creep" slowly through the crossing. If the cane traveller takes a step back and pulls in his cane, it's a definite "go" for the motorist.

Avoid split-second stops at stop signs. They are confusing to those who are dependent on traffic sounds. If you come to a complete stop, you could provide some assistance with the sound of your car's engine. Come to a full stop and allow the blind pedestrian to cross in front of you.

Don't turn right on a red light. In an ideal world that would be true. Take it easy on the right turns and remind yourself to check the intersection before turning.

Don't fail to stop for pedestrians at crosswalks without stop signs. To ensure the safety of all pedestrians always come to a full stop when a pedestrian is anywhere in the crosswalk.

Don't stop in the middle of the crosswalk. This forces a blind pedestrian to go around your car and often into traffic in order to cross the street.

Don't block the sidewalk at driveways. Creative parking solutions often create problems for a cane traveller. In this particular case, a path around the front or back of the car must be chosen, with no guarantees on outcome.

Don't honk. Honking at the blind pedestrian to let them know they can cross usually results in scaring the heck out of them.

Arlene Jongbloets, Free Press staff

End of article.

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