White cane safety day: Recognizing success despite disabilities

Iliana Woloch ‘24, News Editor

Imagine, for a moment, the world has gone completely dark. You can no longer see the wall nearest you, much less the hand in front of your face. You are blind. 

According to the National Federation of the Blind, 7,675,600 people have a visual disability in the United States alone. While many go on to live successful, independent lives despite this, impaired sight or a complete lack thereof can still pose severe threats to these individual’s lives. 

As one could probably guess, being visually impared leaves driving out of the question in terms of commuting to work, buying groceries, or simply going to visit a friend. Therefore many of the blind and visually impaired opt to walk to their place of business or to a local bus station. 

In an attempt to aid in these commutes to work, as well as in the continuation of everyday life, white canes were first invented in the 1930s. These usually 4-6ft canes help their users to travel independently. The cane is used to make sure the area in front and around the user is free of obstacles. They also help drivers identify and yield to give such pedestrians the right of way. This courtesy was later turned into a law in 1937. 

National White Cane Safety Day, established by President Lyndon B. Johnson in 1964, was set for Oct. 15. This national day of recognition was put into place in order to raise awareness and recognition for the accomplishments of the blind as well as to inform citizens about the laws concerning blind pedestrians, such as giving them the right of way whether or not they carry a cane or are in the presence of a guide dog. 

There are so many individuals who achieve incredible things in spite of visual disabilities, and some of whom are household names. 

Louis Braille was only three when he accidentally stabbed himself in the eye with his father’s awl, the inflammation rendered both eyes completely blind by the time he was five. The pioneer later said, “We do not need pity, nor do we need to be reminded that we are vulnerable. We must be treated as equals — and communication is the way we can bring this about.” But there was no way for the blind to be able to communicate their thoughts and ideas to others beyond word of mouth. He went on to solve this obstacle and become the inventor and designer of braille writing; a language composed of raised dots that a person can feel with their fingers. This opened up opportunities for blind children all over the world and is still widely used today. 

A household name, Helen Keller, was an author, lecturer, and activist despite not only being blind but deaf as well. Keller said, “Better to be blind and see with your heart, than to have two good eyes and see nothing.” Keller saw her disabilities, not as a hindernment, but as the ability to have a different perspective. This attitude helped her to reach great lengths, and she went on to be the first deaf/blind person to graduate from college. 

Several others throughout history have also been known to be blind or visually impared, though the fact can become overshadowed by their accomplishments, such as Harriet Tubman, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, and Galileo Galilei. 

This October, let’s remember all the great achievements of the blind and visually impaired, as well as the challenges that had to be faced and hurdles jumped in order to get there. Despite limited abilities, these individuals, and so many more, beat the odds and made a better world for those that would come after them. Their success deserves to be celebrated and their legacy carried forth to be taught to future generations. 

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