Thursday morning the VA clinic in Barren Spot’s Village Mall will celebrate blind and visually impaired people’s achievements and remind people how the white cane is an important tool in helping the blind and the visually impaired live with greater independence.
The Blind Veterans Association and V.I. University Center for Excellence in Developmental Disabilities are putting on the educational consciousness-raising program, set for Thursday from 8 to 11 a.m., in honor of White Cane Safety Day, observed Oct. 15, every year.
It is a time when communities across the nation reaffirm their commitment to improve access to basic services for blind and visually impaired people, according to a statement from the center.
White Cane Safety Day also reminds people that motor vehicles and pedestrians should yield the right of way to blind or visually impaired people using canes, according to the statement.
Access and attitudes are among the most pressing issues facing the territory’s visually impaired; and small, easy actions on those fronts would make their day-to-day lives much easier, several of the territory’s visually impaired residents told the V.I. Legislature recently.
"I think our biggest problem is access," said Henry Smith, a computer specialist who is visually impaired, when testifying in June in support of a bill to rename a law giving the right-of-way to visually impaired pedestrians the "White Cane Law."
"For instance, coming into this building, do you have braille on the elevators? No? What floor am I on?" Smith said.
Access is important, as is simple consciousness and compassion, Josette Morris, a peer counselor at the V.I. Association for Independent Living, testified at the time.
"Time after time, safari (taxi-bus) operators have refused to stop for me because they see a white cane in my hand," Morris said, adding that drivers "have literally run over [her] cane, without stopping or showing any regret. She said she’s also been struck by cars numerous times while walking the streets of St. Thomas. A change in attitude and broader awareness would ease the day-to-day lives of the visually impaired in the community, Morris said.
According to the center’s statement, in 1963 the National Federation of the Blind called upon the governors from every state to proclaim Oct. 15 as White Cane Safety Day; in 1964 Congress did just that.
White canes provide the visually impaired with greater mobility, allowing them to participate more within their communities. Blind and visually impaired people have used canes as mobility tools for centuries, but it was not until after World War I that the white cane was properly introduced, according to the association.
In modern times there are different varieties of this tool, each serving slightly varied needs.