Despite technological advances, the white cane continues to be an essential tool for millions of people who are visually impaired or blind to be able to travel independently and safely. Every year on October 15, we commemorate White Cane Safety Day, which highlights the importance of the white cane as a symbol of mobility, independence and achievement.
All year round, in keeping with this special day’s mission, Lighthouse Guild orientation and mobility instructors teach our clients how to travel independently by using a white cane.
O&M instruction offers a variety of navigational tips and techniques. For instance, we instruct clients how to use landmarks when traveling and to establish routes to frequently traveled locations like from home to work.
Safety and Equality
In 2011, almost a half century after President Lyndon Johnson signed White Cane Safety Day into law, President Barack Obama also named October 15 as Blind American’s Equality Day.
Among our recent advocacy successes is a new law that triples the number of Accessible Pedestrian Signals (APS) to be installed each year at New York City intersections. We were pleased to collaborate with the Pedestrians for Accessible and Safe Streets (PASS) Coalition in this important initiative.
We also support efforts to improve the accessibility of pedestrian curb ramps to ensure the safety of people who are visually impaired or blind. And we continue to encourage federal efforts to equip quiet-running hybrids and electric cars with noise-making devices, which would better alert low vision and blind pedestrians when they approach.
Three Things You Can Do to Help Keep White Cane Users Safe
- Yield when driving: laws in all states require drivers to yield the right of way when they see a person using a white cane. In New York, drivers should always give pedestrians who are using a white or metal cane, or walking with a guide dog, the right-of-way when they’re attempting to cross at a marked or unmarked crosswalk. You must do so even if traffic signals or other right-of-way rules aren’t in their favor.
- Be alert: if you’re using lawn equipment or a jackhammer near an intersection, stop to find out if a person using a white cane is waiting to cross the street and will need to hear the traffic and/or crossing signal.
- Give clear directions: when asked by someone using a white cane for directions, descriptive phrases such as “across the street” and “left at the next corner” are more helpful than a description like “over there.”