White Cane Awareness Day October 15 Bookmark and Share

October 7, 2016

For Immediate Release: October 7, 2016
Contact: Julie Rabinowitz, 621-5009

Events in Dover-Foxcroft, Portland, Presque Isle, Augusta and Bangor

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. Several events open to the public will be held around the state on that day.

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 person about obstacles and changes in the level of the walking surface, 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.”

The commissioner added, “Individuals or family members who have questions about services available for a person of any age experiencing vision loss should call the department’s Bureau of Rehabilitation Services.” The Bureau’s phone number is (207) 623-6799 (TTY users dial Maine Relay 711). Additional information is available online at http://www.maine.gov/rehab/dbvi .

Several Maine cities will be hosting White Cane Awareness walks or events on Saturday, October 15. The public is encouraged to attend.

  • Dover-Foxcroft: 10 a.m., meet in “The Mill” parking lot
  • Portland: 9 a.m. registration with 10 a.m. start time, meet at The Iris Network, 189 Park Ave.
  • Presque Isle: 10 a.m., meet at Wilder’s Jewelry
  • Augusta: 9:30 a.m., meet in the Maine State Library
  • Bangor : 10 a.m.–2 p.m., meet in the Bangor Mall. There will be an area in the mall reserved to educate participants on the White Cane Laws, visual impairment, and what services are available.

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.

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