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Group stresses the importance of white canes for the blind

Oct. 16, 2013 @ 12:00 AM

HUNTINGTON -- Between the many free services provided by the Cabell-Wayne Association of the Blind and the job opportunities in the Huntington offices of the American Foundation for the Blind, Huntington is an attractive place to be for some residents who are visually impaired. Many have made the city their home and navigate the city streets using white canes or guide dogs.

To raise awareness and alert Huntington motorists about safety issues for residents who use white canes to navigate the streets of the city, the association hosted a White Cane Safety Day on Tuesday at the association's Paul R. Slone Activities Center on 3rd Avenue.

There seems to be some lack of understanding with some motorists about white canes, which puts blind pedestrians at risk, said Wanda Annis, who moved to Huntington from rural Indiana partly because of the many services offered through the association.

"Some people don't know what the white cane is for," she said. She suspects they assume it's just a traditional cane used for mobility, and that can put visually impaired pedestrians at risk, particularly in situations where a motorist is turning right on a red light.

"The thing that has been more difficult for me has been the turners. ... Right on a red has been a real setback for the blind," said Annis, who sometimes walks with a white cane and sometimes with a guide dog. "I think (drivers) watch more with a dog than with a cane. ... Now, with the whole cellphone thing, people really don't seem to be paying attention."

The standard white cane has a red bottom section and a black grip, and there are laws in every state and other countries giving people who are blind a legal status in traffic, said Toni Wall, who works as a certified orientation and mobility specialist with the Cabell-Wayne Association of the Blind, as well as a certified vision rehabilitation therapist.

After determining the right size of cane needed, the blind must learn how to hold and use them properly, making an arc in front of them as they walk and timing their gate accordingly, she said. They must learn how to use curbs, sidewalks, steps, doorways, escalators and elevators, and get through crowds -- all before beginning to cross streets, she said.

They also must learn parallel and perpendicular traffic sounds, street design and street width and more. It's not easy, said Wall, who is sighted but whose training required her to learn to get around blindfolded.

"I see the cane not as a symbol of disability but rather as a statement of ability," Wall said. "It is a much harder task than you might think to get around safely with a cane."



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