White Cane Safety Day is annually observed in the United States on October 15. The occasion celebrates the achievements of people who are blind or visually impaired, and it promotes this group’s opportunities to live and work independently. The name of the day pays respect to an important symbol of blindness and tool of independence: the white cane.
Throughout the world, long white canes are used by blind or visually impaired people as a tool for safe and reliable navigation, especially in traffic situations. They are a symbol of the user’s skills, talents, mobility and independence. White canes can be collapsible or straight, and they also allow sighted people to recognize the user is visually impaired.
According to the World Blind Union, an organization representing 285 million blind or partially sighted people worldwide, White Cane Day recognizes the movement of blind people from dependency to full participation in society.
On Oct. 6, 1964, a joint resolution of the U.S. Congress was signed into law, and the resolution was immediately authorized by President Lyndon B. Johnson to proclaim October 15 of each year as White Cane Safety Day. In 2011, White Cane Safety Day was also named Blind Americans Equality Day by President Barack Obama.
President Johnson commended blind people for their growing spirit of independence, self-sufficiency and increased determination to be self-reliant. In his 1964 proclamation, he said, “The white cane in our society has become one of the symbols of a blind person’s ability to come and go on his own. Its use has promoted courtesy and special consideration to the blind on our streets and highways.”
Prior to the proclamation, a moderately small number of blind people had adequate independence to travel alone on busy roads. By 1978, that number had multiplied by a hundredfold, and the movement continues today.
The Power of Freedom
Marc Maurer, president of the National Federation of the Blind, said, “There was a time when it was unusual to see a blind person on the street, to find a blind person working in an office, or to see a blind person operating machinery in a factory. This is still all too uncommon. But it happens more often, and the symbol of this independence is the white cane. The blind are able to go, to move, to be, and to compete with all others in society. The means by which this is done is that simple tool: the white cane.”
The growing use of the white cane showcases the power to live life with more freedom. Maurer called it “the unquenchable spirit and the inextinguishable determination to be independent.”
Because of the white cane, lives are changed, and the prospects for blind people become bright. This positive opportunity is what White Cane Safety Day is all about.