White Cane Awareness Day October 15 Bookmark and Share

October 11, 2013

For Immediate Release: October 11, 2013
Contact: Julie Rabinowitz, 621-5009

Department of Labor offers safety tips to protect pedestrians with low vision

AUGUSTA—To recognize “White Cane Safety Day” on Oct. 15, the Department of Labor’s Division for the Blind and Visually Impaired is promoting awareness of the white cane, a tool used by people with visual impairment to safely navigate foot travel.

The familiar white cane, sometimes with red markings, is extended in front of the body, signifying that the user cannot see well. Traditionally thought of as being used by “the Blind,” only a small number of people using the cane see nothing. Most people have some degree of vision, although they may not have enough to walk about safely.

“In addition to warning the Visually Impaired about obstacles and level changes, the cane makes others, especially drivers, aware that the user may not see them,” said Governor Paul R. LePage. “It enables a Visually Impaired person to be independent and self-reliant. White Cane Awareness Day helps ensure that by educating the public about how the cane is used.”

People who experience a vision loss can get specialized training in using a white cane and may spend many hours learning how to navigate their home town, to cross streets safely and to use public transit. However, as proficient as they may be with independent travel skills, vehicles and traffic present significant concerns and risk.

These suggestions can help drivers take reasonable safety precautions when they see someone using a white cane:

  • Don’t stop your car more than 5 feet from the crosswalk line (further distance only confuses visually impaired pedestrians and makes it harder for them to hear your car).

  • Don’t yell out, “It’s okay to cross.” (You may not be aware of all the factors required to safely cross.)

  • Don’t wait a long time for blind pedestrians to cross. If it appears they are not ready to cross, “creep” slowly forward through the crossing. If the cane traveler pulls in the cane or steps back, that is a sign to the motorist that it is okay to go.

  • Do make full stops at stop signs.

  • Do stop completely and look for pedestrians before attempting to turn right on red.

  • Do stop for all pedestrians in crosswalks.

  • Don’t stop your car in the middle of the crosswalk.

  • Don’t block the sidewalk at driveways.

  • Don’t honk.

Maine’s white cane law that states that “failure to yield the right of way to a visually impaired pedestrian commits a traffic infraction punishable by a fine of not less than $50 nor more than $1,000.”

Here are a few other common sense suggestions to keep in mind when encountering a person using a white cane:

  • Ask first if you think someone needs assistance.

  • When giving directions, be clear, use concrete terms (for example, left/right, approximate distances) and avoid pointing.

  • Allow space for a person with a white cane to pass, but if that is too difficult or awkward and they are heading for you, speak up and let them know you are there.

Commissioner Jeanne Paquette explained, “The ability to use the white cane and have the confidence to make good decisions requires constant effort, even for the most skilled traveler. Others can help promote their safety and independence by following these simple and common-sense rules.”

The Division for the Blind and Visually Impaired, part of the Bureau of Rehabilitation Services, provides comprehensive services for visually impaired and blind individuals of all ages. The division provides help to people with a vision problem that prevents them from carrying out the activities of daily living, including attending school and getting a job. Services include vocational assessment, orientation and mobility instruction to develop independent travel skills, and employment support services to enable job success.

Individuals or family members interested in more information about services should call the Bureau of Rehabilitation Services at (207) 623-6799 (TTY users please use Maine Relay 711) or visit their website at http://www.maine.gov/rehab/dbvi/index.shtml .

The Department of Labor is an equal opportunity provider. Auxiliary aids and services are available upon request to individuals with disabilities.

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