White Cane Awareness Day October 14 Bookmark and Share

October 13, 2015

For Immediate Release: October 13, 2015
Media 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. 14, 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.

A person with blindness or low vision extends a white cane, sometimes with red markings, in front of the body; the cane signifies that the user cannot see well. Although long perceived as a tool of people with total blindness, in fact 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.

“White Cane Awareness Day helps educate the public about how the cane is used,” said Commissioner of Labor Jeanne Paquette. “In addition to warning the Visually Impaired user about obstacles and level changes, the cane makes others, especially drivers, aware that the user may not see them. Using the cane enables a Visually Impaired person to be independent and self-reliant.”

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

Drivers who fail to yield to a person using a white cane may face fines. 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.”

Commissioner 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 a few simple and common-sense rules.”

These suggestions can help drivers take reasonable precautions when they see someone using a white cane to ensure the safety of all parties:
- 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.

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; however, if that is too difficult or awkward and they are heading for you, speak up and let them know you are there.

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.