What is a white cane? The Council of the Blind is asking the community to help make Wyoming’s streets safer

CASPER, Wyo. – As “White Cane Safety Day” approaches, the Wyoming Council of the Blind is working to raise awareness of what white canes are, as well as what people, especially drivers who are blind and visually impaired, should be aware of. Nation.

The term white cane refers to canes or walking sticks that blind or partially sighted people sometimes rely on to help them navigate. Cheryl Godley, president-elect of the Wyoming Council of the Blind, said Monday that it’s not uncommon for pedestrians who rely on white canes or guide dogs to encounter hazards as they walk through Wyoming communities.

A particularly common problem is that drivers do not pay attention to pedestrians when turning right.

“We have to be very careful,” Godley said. “This is very dangerous. They don’t give us a toll.”

Godley said that in addition to being aware of pedestrians, drivers should avoid distracting people walking with canes or guide dogs.

Blind and visually impaired people know how to read traffic to understand what is happening and when it is safe to cross intersections. Drivers sometimes yell out their windows at people walking with white sticks or at people trying to command guide dogs to cross the street. While this is sometimes done with the intention of being helpful, Godley said it’s not as helpful as people think.

“It’s very distracting for a blind person,” he said, adding that yelling can also be a distraction for guide dogs.

People who want to help sometimes even get out of their cars to stop traffic. Godley, who lives in Casper, said it happened to him recently while using a white cane. A man got out of his car in the middle of traffic, stopped other vehicles and told him he could cross the road.

Godley added that this can be embarrassing for someone using a white cane or a guide dog, and is also unnecessary because blind and visually impaired people can understand the rules of the road.

While it’s not necessary or helpful for people in cars to yell out their windows or get out to avoid traffic, Godley said he thinks it’s good for another pedestrian to encounter a blind or visually impaired pedestrian and offer help. If pedestrians want to offer help, Godley said, the key is to ask the person who is blind or visually impaired first. Godley says people will sometimes grab a blind person and pull them across the street without taking the time to ask if the person wants help.

As for drivers, another issue is stopping cars at crosswalks while a blind person is trying to cross.

“It happens all the time, believe it or not,” Godley said.

The other day, he was with a guide dog and crossed the first lane of an intersection, but a car in the next lane blocked the crosswalk. Guide dogs are trained not to cross a car if it’s in a crosswalk, and Godley has to wait on the street until the car backs up to let him cross.

Tom Lealos, vice president of the Wyoming Council of the Blind, said he knows someone in Lovell who used a white stick when he was hit by a car while trying to cross an intersection. As Lealos plans to advocate for some changes to Wyoming’s white cane law, the Wyoming Council of the Blind is working to gather information about such cases.

“If there are episodes [blind or low vision people] if there’s a white cane or guide dog, we’d definitely like to hear from them,” Lealos said.

Lealos said the state lacks some of the protections available elsewhere, and while the Wyoming Council of the Blind has yet to decide on specific changes, it is beginning a research and review process with the goal of presenting recommendations to the Legislature.

While traffic safety is the main focus of White Cane Safety Day, Godley and Lealos want to raise awareness of other situations.

Lealos was a blind man for many years until he became completely blind. He sometimes bumped into people in grocery stores.

As his eyesight worsened, he finally decided to train to start using a white cane, thinking he wouldn’t get hurt while using it.

“I thought my cane would stop me from getting into a train wreck, but it didn’t,” he said.

Lealos, problems like a collision at a grocery store can be caused by people not knowing what white cane is and what it is for. So he works to help educate people about white canes in general.

“I understand my uncle, but they don’t,” he said.

During his low-vision journey, Lealos said he would sometimes ask people at the grocery store for help reading labels. While many people were helpful, others sometimes looked at him strangely, as if he were faking something.

“It was amazing to me how different people reacted when they were around me,” Lealos said.

Lealos said they found it easier to believe people were sincere when they asked for help reading labels when they were using their white cane and wearing shaded glasses. Lealos suggested that people with low vision sometimes really need some help to read or navigate something, so when someone gets a question that requires such help, they might want to treat the request as sincere.

Both Godley and Lealos spoke about what parents and guardians can do to educate their children about blindness and low vision issues.

First, children and people in general need to understand that a guide dog is a working animal and should not be walked or petted while it is working. This can be distracting and distressing to the dog and the person it is helping.

While people should never pet a guide dog without asking, Godley said some blind or visually impaired people who use guide dogs may not benefit from having their dog as a pet if someone asks first. She believes that parents should teach their children that it is okay to ask such questions, as long as they respect the decision of the blind or partially sighted person using the guide dog.

“The manager has the choice to say yes or no,” Godley said.

When the guide dog isn’t working while he’s waiting in line, Godley sometimes lets people pet him.

Godley says parents sometimes silence their young children if they ask aloud why a person uses a white cane or guide dog. But it’s natural for children to be curious about people who use white canes or guide dogs, and she believes parents should let their children ask questions.

As children politely ask, Lealos said she thinks it’s good to encourage questions. She suggested that parents teach their children to ask questions in a friendly way and offer to help a blind or partially sighted person if they need help with something like reading labels or signs.

Lealos got questions from kids at the church he attended in Powell about how his white color worked. Like most of the white canes that modern humans rely on, Lealos can fall. When the kids at his church asked, he was happy to show them how it worked.

If a child asks a question in a friendly way, Lealos added, blind and partially sighted people should show them the courtesy of taking the time to talk to them.

On the topic of traffic safety, Godley said technology installed at intersections that let blind or partially sighted people know it’s safe to cross can be helpful, though he said some blind or partially sighted people don’t like them because they’d rather pay attention. traffic patterns on their own roads.

Because people who are blind or visually impaired have different levels of mobility, Godley said she thinks crosswalk assist technology is valuable and is glad the city of Casper is installing them downtown. There’s also one installed at an intersection near his home that he uses regularly, “I really appreciate it.”

People who are blind or visually impaired can contact cgodley@wyoming.com or 307-267-3544 or Lealos at 307-764-3664 if they have stories to share about their experiences walking around Wyoming communities. The Wyoming Council of the Blind can help anyone with vision problems find resources.

“Sometimes people don’t know where to turn for help,” Godley said, reiterating that the Wyoming Council of the Blind is happy to help.

Lealos wrote the following about the history of White Cane Safety Day:

White Cane Safety Day – October 15

Tom Lealos, Vice President

Wyoming Council of the Blind

The use of long sticks and canes by blind and visually impaired pedestrians has evolved over the years. They are simply an extension of the arm and allow the user to identify upcoming threats using their sense of touch and sound. These sticks, called white canes in modern times, are used as both tools and symbols in the blind community. White canes enable blind and partially sighted people to travel safely over all types of terrain and around invisible obstacles. They also serve as symbols of the independent spirit exhibited by their wearers. With proper Orientation and Mobility (O & M) training, a white cane user can travel safely in almost any environment. Today, most white canes have a wide red stripe on the bottom, which creates contrast for better public recognition.

The “white” cane was first introduced to the public in France in the early 1920s, and in Great Britain by some spinning clubs in the early 1930s. Pioneering initiatives by Lyons Clubs International in Illinois and Michigan in the early 1930s are associated with the beginning of white cane ceremonies in the United States. Local and statewide announcements began to appear, recognizing the white cane as a universally recognized symbol of blind travelers. Advocacy efforts by many independent organizations and state vocational programs finally culminated in our nation’s capital in October 1964, when Congress passed a resolution and President Lyndon B. Johnson proclaimed October 15th each year as White Cane Safety Day. President Bill Clinton later reiterated this in his 2001 State of the Union address. Governors and mayors are issuing similar proclamations for White Cane Safety Day across the country. White Cane Safety Day is celebrated internationally on October 15 under the auspices of the World Blind Union (WBU).

The purpose of these announcements is to increase the awareness of vehicle drivers when they encounter pedestrians using white canes and/or guide dogs on streets, roads and highways. These pedestrians have the right of way in all cases. Their white canes and/or dog guides allow them to safely navigate their desired travel route. They are in control and do not need the additional assistance of drivers who are distracted by honking or shouting demanding instructions. Drivers’ hand gestures fall on “blind eyes” and show ignorance and disrespect for white-caned travelers. Drivers are urged to be careful and patient. Drivers of some of the newer battery-powered cars that don’t make a sound need to be very careful, as white-caned travelers won’t even know you’re there. Polite drivers and sober white cane travelers can usually coexist with mutual respect and common sense.

State laws protect the rights of cane travelers everywhere. It is bad behavior for the driver of any vehicle to injure a pedestrian walking with a white cane or a guide dog. Fines and penalties apply for these violations. The Wyoming Board of the Blind (WyCB) is currently studying our state’s White Cane laws to correct and update existing inequities found in the statute and Driver’s Training Manual.

Those of us in the blindness community do not consider ourselves disabled or disabled. Yes, blindness is a disability. How we accept and adapt to this disability is a testament to our individual courage and determination to maintain our independence. Our white canes provide us with the necessary mobility to take a very important step towards this goal.

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