Sarasota Herald-Tribune Guest Editorial: Lisa Howard
October 25, 2018
Howard: The white cane of independence
By Lisa Howard, Guest Columnist
It hasn’t been so long that individuals who are blind or visually impaired have been able to lead full, independent lives. Years ago, many accepted that they would need the assistance of friends or family to leave their home and go out in the world — for the entirety of their lives.
But the white cane has changed that and enabled those previously homebound due to blindness or low vision to venture out and enjoy their freedom.
The white cane, which was painted white to be more easily visible, was introduced in the early 20th century. In 1931, Guilly d’Herbemont, widely considered as the inventor of the white cane, gave the first two canes to blind people. In the U.S., white canes were introduced and promoted by Lion Clubs International.
In 1964, at the urging of the National Federation of the Blind, Congress adopted a joint resolution designating Oct. 15 as White Cane Safety Day. This observance — which continues today — publicly recognized the white cane as a tool that enables blind people to travel safely and independently.
Today, the entire month of October is recognized as White Cane Awareness Month, celebrating the achievements of those who are blind or visually impaired and emphasizing the critical role the white cane plays in helping them to lead the lives they want. This observance is celebrated around the world.
At Lighthouse of Manasota, we have seen the impact that the white cane has on the lives of those impacted by vision loss.
When people first come to us, they’re not typically very happy about it. Those who are in the process of losing their vision are angry or scared, thinking that their life as they knew it is basically over.
But over time, as our Certified Orientation and Mobility Instructors teach them adaptive techniques to accomplish everyday tasks, you can see hope and happiness return. As they gain confidence, they move toward independence.
Yet there is still a stigma surrounding the white cane. Many who could benefit from its use don’t want to use it in public, thereby identifying themselves as disabled. It is also a common misconception that visually impaired patients who are not (or not yet) completely blind are not candidates for mobility training.
There is also an unrealistic expectation that everyone who is visually impaired can someday get a guide dog, but, according to the National Federation of the Blind, only about 5 percent of those who are blind or have low vision are qualified or choose to use a guide dog.
We are hoping to change the perception of the white cane so that all who might benefit from this amazing tool will make the decision to use it. An incredible number of our clients tell us that the white cane hasn’t just improved their lives, it has saved their lives.
If you have a loved one who you feel might benefit from white cane training, or if you would like to show your support for a friend or family member who is blind or visually impaired, please consider joining us for our White Cane Awareness Walk on Saturday, Oct. 27, at Bradenton Riverwalk. I believe you’ll find it an “eye-opening” experience.
Lisa Howard is the CEO of Lighthouse of Manasota.