Trying to get beyond the white cane
By Donna MacMullin
Consider how you get around from day-to-day. Now consider the challenges you would face if you could not see. This is one of the things communities across Canada are hoping people will think about this week during the annual white cane awareness campaign.
Gladys Borowski, co-ordinator of White Cane Week in London, said the occasion is intended to bring awareness to people in the community of what the white cane is. "We want to educate the public and let people know that being blind is nothing to be embarrassed about," she said.
The first week of February was designated White Cane Week in 1947 as a co-operative effort between the Canadian Council for the Blind and the Canadian National Institute for the Blind. The week was designated to raise awareness of the white cane a symbol of blindness, courage and independent spirit.
Visually-impaired herself, Borowski said the most significant challenge those with the disability face is the courage and ability to be independent. "Trying to get around without people to guide you is often difficult," she said. "The white cane is symbolic of gaining independence."
In North America, the discovery of the white cane is attributed to an incident in 1930 when a member of Lions Clubs International watched a blind man attempt to cross the street with a black cane which was barely visible to motorists. The club decided to paint the cane white with a band of red at the bottom and promoted these white canes for blind people through a national program.
Throughout this week, Borowski said the CNIB will be giving presentations at centres around the city. Her husband Brian is also a white cane user and works at Western's information and technology services.
Norma Cowell is CNIB's district manager and is also visually-impaired. She said the institute provides various aids and resources to rehabilitate those living with the disability. "We have programs to help people with daily living skills, communications skills, leisure activities, personal grooming and orientation and mobility training."
In addition, the facility also teaches traffic skills, route training and how to walk with a sighted guide, along with an information resource centre so visually-impaired people may have access to information in the form they need.
Jennifer Boag, a third-year music education student at Western, is a white cane user who has been visually impaired all her life but completely lost her vision four years ago.
In her experience at Western she said people are very helpful, although she sometimes has trouble in open spaces and travelling in the snow is often difficult.
Kirk Raiser is a computer programmer at Western involved in providing a computer braille facility and access lab to students on campus. He estimates there are about 10 to 15 visually-impaired students at Western and is involved in providing them with the access to information through the computer.
Cowell is optimistic visually-impaired people are increasingly given support by the community, although she said the greatest challenge remains is public awareness and acceptance of those with the disability. "All we really want is for people to see us as people first and to see the disability second," she said.