The importance of October 15 for the blind

Toddler using white cane

Good frosty Friday,

I hope you are having a fabulous day. The above video is of a cute little toddler using her cane to explore her world. I know I’m a day late to the party, but I suppose it’s better than never to talk about October 15th and why this date is so important for the blindness community.

For my sighted friends, I’m sure you’ve come across a blind person with a white cane, so if you have any questionslet’s talk. The purpose of yesterday was two-fold. It was White Ccane Safety Day and Blindness Equality Day. First, let’s talk a bit about White Cane Safety Day.

This day is an international observance since 1964 whose purpose is to (a) celebrate the achievements of those who are blind or visually impaired and (b) acknowledge and remind the general public of the importance of the long white cane, a symbol of independence, freedom, and a mobility tool for the blind.

Here is some information from the National Federation of the Blind about this historic day:

The National Federation of the Blind in convention, assembled on July 6, 1963, called upon the governors of the 50 states to proclaim October 15 of each year as White Cane Safety Day in each of our 50 states. On October 6, 1964, a joint resolution of the Congress, H.R. 753, was signed into law authorizing the President of the United States to proclaim October 15 of each year as “White Cane Safety Day.”

This resolution said: “Resolved by the Senate and House of Representatives, that the President is hereby authorized to issue annually a proclamation designating October 15 as White Cane Safety Day and calling upon the people of the United States to observe such a day with appropriate ceremonies and activities.”

Within hours of the passage of the congressional joint resolution authorizing the President to proclaim October 15 as White Cane Safety Day, then-President Lyndon B. Johnson recognized the importance of the white cane as a staff of independence for blind people.

In 2011, our current President declared this day also Blind Americans Equality Day. Now, doesn’t that sound all nice, warm and fuzzy? Yes and no. After a discussion with a good friend related to what this declaration stands for, I began to feel a tad bit angry. I appreeciate educating the general public of the importance of the white cane. My cane is not only an extenssion of my arm, it is how I detect what is around me. It is one of many tools toward full integration and independence in a sighted world. We have come a long way since 1964, but we still have a ways to go. I hope and pray I live to see the day when we no longer need a declaration to prove to society that people who happen to be blind or visually impaired deserve equality in all areas of life. Here is where my impassioned anger comes into play. Blind parents have had their children removed solely based on their disability or misconceptions about their abilities to parent, blind college students have been denied entrance into courses because of their lack of sight, parents often have to vigorously fight for their blind child to receive the free appropriate education they rightfully deserve, there is an astonishingly high rate of unemployment and illiteracy among the blind, dog guide users are denied access into establishments due to ignorance of laws or down right discrimination and the list goes on and on longer than the Lamb Chops Playalong song.

Since I’ve been on the job hunt since graduation, I’ve had lots of time to ponder over how I feel towards these issues. This is why we need advocacy organizationns who fight for equality, opportunity and security for the bllind. I want my life as a Mother, daughter, sister, and friend to be just as fullfilling as everyone else does. Although we may go about accomplishing tasks differently, the alternative is not always inferior to sight.

Many of the challenges we face such as unemployment or low literacy rates are not due to a lack of skilled workers or decreased intelect, rather it is the misconceptions society and some employers possess about the abilities of a blind employee or the importance of teaching a child Braille and how to read. I want to be viewed as a contributing tax paying member of society, not a drain on society because I am blind.

I want to live in a world where I am not characterized by my blindness because this is not what defines me. Our perceptions of people go so much deeper than what we see. I am a practicing Catholic, avid Braille book reader, Dachshund fanatic and so much more.

I encourage my sighted friends: the next time you see or meet a person with a disability, see them for the person they are, not for what you see with your eyes.

Until next time,

Anjelina

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