[Missouri-l] White Cane Safety Day
chiphailey at cableone.net
Tue Oct 13 20:58:23 CDT 2009
In observance of White Cane Safety Day.
I posted this article several years ago and thought it was worth posting again.
AMERICAN COUNCIL OF THE BLIND
History of White Cane Safety Day
by Philip Strong
The white cane is not just a tool that can be used to achieve independence; it is
also a symbol of the blind citizens in our society. To honor the many achievements
of blind and visually impaired Americans and to recognize the white cane's significance
in advancing independence, we observe October 15 of each year as "White Cane Safety
Day." Today, the white cane works both, as a tool for the blind as well as a symbol,
but this has not always been the case. Throughout history, the cane, staff, and stick
have existed as traveling aids for the blind and visually impaired. Dating back to
biblical times records show that a shepherd's staff was used as a tool for solitary
travel. The blind used such tools to alert them to obstacles in their path.
For centuries, the "cane" was used merely as a tool for travel and it was not until
the twentieth century that the cane, as we know it today, was promoted for use by
the blind as a symbol to alert others to the fact that an individual was blind.
This new role for the white cane had its origins in the decades between the two World
Wars, beginning in Europe and then spreading to North America. James Biggs of Bristol
claimed to have invented the white cane in 1921. After an accident claimed his sight,
the artist had to readjust to his environment. Feeling threatened by increased motor
vehicle traffic around his home, Biggs decided to paint his walking stick white to
make himself more visible to motorists.
It was not however until ten years later the white cane established its presence
in society. In February 1931, Guilly d'Herbemont launched a scheme for a national
white stick movement for blind people in France. The campaign was reported in British
newspapers leading to a similar scheme being sponsored by rotary clubs throughout
the United Kingdom. In May 1931 the BBC suggested in its radio broadcasts that blind
individuals might be provided with a white stick, which would become universally
recognized as a symbol indicating that somebody was blind or visually impaired. In
North America the introduction of the white cane has been attributed to the Lion's
Clubs International. In 1930, a Lion's Club member watched as a blind man attempted
to make his way across a busy street using a black cane. With the realization that
the black cane was barely visible to motorists, the Lion's Club decided to paint
the cane white to increase its visibility to oncoming motorists. In 1931, the Lion's
Club International began a national program promoting the use of white canes for
persons who are blind Throughout the 1920s and 1930s, blind persons had walked with
their canes held diagonally in a fixed position, and the role of the white cane took
on a symbolic role as an identifier. But when the blind veterans of World War II
returned to America, the form and the use of the white cane was further altered in
an attempt to help return veterans to participatory lifestyles at home. Doctor Richard
Hoover developed the "long cane" or "Hoover" method of cane travel. These white canes
are designed to be used as mobility devices and returned the cane to its original
role as a tool for mobility, but maintained the symbolic role as an identifier of
During this period, the white cane began to make its way into government policy as
a symbol for the blind.
The first special White Cane Ordinance was passed in December 1930 in Peoria, Illinois.
It granted blind pedestrians protections and the right-of-way while carrying a white
cane. In 1935, Michigan began promoting the white cane as a visible symbol for the
blind. On February 25, 1936, ordinance was passed for the City of Detroit recognizing
the white cane. To promote the new ordinance, a demonstration was held at City Hall
where the blind and visually impaired were presented with white canes. The following
year, Donald Schuur wrote the provision of a bill and had it proposed in the State
Legislature. The proposal gave the carrier of the White Cane protection while traveling
on the streets of Michigan. Governor Frank Murphy signed the bill into law in March
1937. During the early 1960's, several state organizations and rehabilitation agencies
serving the blind and visually impaired citizens of the United States urged Congress
to proclaim October 15 of each year to be White Cane Safety Day in all fifty states.
This event marked a climatic moment in the long campaign of the organized blind movement
to gain state as well as national recognition for the white cane. On October 6, 1964,
a joint resolution of the Congress, HR 753, was signed into law authorizing the President
of the United States to proclaim October 15 of each year as "White Cane Safety Day".
The resolution read "Resolved by the Senate and HR. 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 passage of the congressional
resolution, President Lyndon B. Johnson went down in history as the first to proclaim
October 15, as White Cane Safety Day. The Presidential proclamation emphasized the
significance of the use of the white cane as both a tool and as a visible symbol.
In the first White Cane Proclamation President Johnson commended blind people for
the growing spirit of independence and the increased determination to be self-reliant
and dignified. He said in part: "A 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 opportunity for mobility of the blind on our streets and highways."
During most years since 1964, the President has proclaimed October 15 as White Cane
Safety Day. On October 15, 2000, President Bill Clinton again reminded us of the
history of the white cane as a tool, and its purpose as a symbol of blindness: ",
With proper training, people using the white cane can enjoy greater mobility and
safety by determining the location of curbs, steps, uneven pavement, and other physical
obstacles in their path. The white cane has given them the freedom to travel independently
to their schools and workplaces and to participate more fully in the life of their
communities. it reminds us that the only barriers against people with disabilities
are discriminatory attitudes and practices that our society has too often placed
in their way. As we observe White Cane Safety Day, 2001, let us recall the history
of the white cane, its emergence as a tool and a symbol through history; a staff
of independence. Let us also recall the events that have permitted us to celebrate
October 15 as White Cane Safety Day.
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