Iowa Educational Services for the Blind and Visually Impaired and the state’s area education agencies are observing White Cane Safety Day today.
Nationally, it is observed on Oct. 15, said Kaylyn Wright, orientation and mobility instructor for IESBVI.
“It’s to recognize the cane as a tool for people who are blind, and they have the right to travel wherever they want,” she said.
It began in 1964, when President Lyndon B. Johnson designated Oct. 15 as a day to recognize individuals in the blind and visually impaired community for their declaration and pursuit of independence, a flyer from IESBVI stated.
Blind individuals use white canes to detect items in their paths. Some think of the white cane to be a tool for safety and independence.
The white cane became widely used during World War II, as veterans returned to the U.S. after losing their sight, Wright said. That followed earlier experiments.
“They wanted to train the veterans to be as independent as they could be,” she said.
The white cane is still the most common tool, although there are others, Wright said.
“There are some electronic aids that can be used,” Wright said. “There are guide dogs.”
One of the more common electronic devices bounces a signal off objects and beeps increasingly fast as the person with the device gets closer to the object, Wright said. However, she said, “You don’t see many people using that.”
She teaches travel techniques using a white cane.
“We work to get our students to be safe and independent travelers as they can be,” she said.
Motorists need to watch out for people with white canes.
“There are white cane safety laws in Iowa,” Wright said. “People are supposed to yield when they come across someone with a cane. The law says ‘any driver of a vehicle or operator of a motor vehicle who approaches a person with a cane,’ they’re supposed to immediately come to a complete stop and take precautions to avoid any accident or injury.”