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Grim reminders of insensitivity

R. Sujatha
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Obstacles galore: Visually challenged persons who use the white cane have learnt to become independent. — PHOTO: S.S.KUMAR
Obstacles galore: Visually challenged persons who use the white cane have learnt to become independent. — PHOTO: S.S.KUMAR

“Every day is an adventure but the challenges that we face have made us independent,” says 29-year-old M. Padma, who lives with her parents in Red Hills. Though often she has to walk five km through interior roads to reach her school in Jagannathapuram in Periayapalayam, she values her independence which she attributes to using the white cane.

On Saturday, she travelled to be with friends at Thakkar Bapa Vidyalaya in T. Nagar. “We have overcome every hurdle and have been trained to take care of ourselves,” says this member of the College Students and Graduates Association of the Blind.

Saturday was celebrated world over as White Cane Safety Day, to highlight the white cane as a symbol of liberation, independence and empowerment of the visually challenged. In India, the celebrations draw attention to the needs of the visually impaired. K. Anandan, who works as a lecturer in the Government Arts College in Tindivanam and travels daily from Mandaveli here says the white cane is not of much help if the government cannot provide good facilities. While the cane helps to avoid obstacles on the road there are also instances where the visually challenged have had miraculous escapes from getting under vehicles, they say.

The visually challenged want facilities such as auditory signals at pedestrian crossings and passenger announcement systems in public transport. “The Delhi Metro Rail stations have provided a raised dotted platform for us to walk safely. Passenger announcement systems on the trains are helpful. We had a similar system on buses in Chennai but they were discontinued as they were not popular,” Ms. Padma says.

The Chennai Corporation's initiative of providing a raised level on the footpath outside Ripon Building was helpful, recalls Association secretary R. Selvakumar. “We could tap our cane on the yellow raised lines and it prevented us from wandering in to the traffic. But now, it does not exist. Such a facility could be created at least on Kamarajar Salai along the beach where the footpaths are always well-maintained,” he adds.

Lack of attention by the government to such issues has meant that advanced models of canes are of no use in the country, the visually impaired say. But they are hopeful that newer devices such as GPS system to identify the location and screen readers on mobile phones would reach them.

P. Ramesh, who teaches in the Government High school in Vyasarpadi, is hoping that research on virtual eye by a student at SRM University, which can help a white cane user identify an object above their eye level, would benefit them.

On Saturday, around 300 visually challenged persons participated in a rally in Poonamallee organised by the National Institute for the Visually Impaired to mark the day. Students of the Government Higher Secondary School for the Blind, and some non-governmental organisations participated in the programme.

According to the Institute's regional director I. Arivanandham, there are about four lakh visually challenged persons in the State and with increasing awareness about the benefits of using the cane, the Central government was also considering setting up a unit in the south to manufacture the canes.

Celebrating the white cane day encourages persons with partial or low vision also to opt for white canes. It will make their disability visible and ensure that sighted persons help them, Dr. Arivanandham says.

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