To recognize “White Cane Safety Day” on Oct. 15, Maine 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. Events open to the public will be held in Presque Isle, Bangor, Dover-Foxcroft, Augusta and Portland. 

Labor Commissioner Jeanne Paquette says 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. Paquette says the cane has long been perceived as a tool of people with total blindness, but only a small number of people using the cane see nothing. The majority have some degree of vision, although they may not see well enough to walk in public safely.

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The National Federation for the Blind created White Cane Safety Day under the Lyndon Johnson administration. On October 6, 1964, a joint resolution of the Congress was signed into law authorizing the President of the United States to proclaim October 15 of each year as White Cane Safety Day.  In the first Presidential White Cane Proclamation, President Johnson commended the blind for the growing spirit of independence and the increased determination to be self-reliant that the organized blind had shown.

White Cane Safety Day helps educate the public about how the cane is used. The Commissioner says, 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.

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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.
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Drivers who fail to yield to a person using a white cane may face fines. Maine’s white cane law 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.”

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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.

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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 services for visually impaired and blind individuals of all ages.

 

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