Watch out for the White Cane

Illustration: S. Belmann  

Have you ever helped a blind person or thought of lending a helping hand but wondered how to go about it? The answer may be ‘yes’ or ‘no’. But it is crucial for all those of us blessed with sight to provide and promote a safe environment for the visually impaired.

“Many of us do not know some basic and simple rules to help blind people,” points out Ms.Shubhra Somani, who after working with the National Association for the Blind in Mumbai and Madhya Pradesh Welfare Association for the Blind in Bhopal, is instrumental in bringing the ‘Zebra Crossing Awareness Campaign’ to Madurai for the first time. It will be launched in Temple Town on October 15, when White Cane Day is observed worldwide to celebrate the importance of the white stick in the lives of the blind.

On Wednesday, 350 students of Indian Association for the Blind in Madurai will take part in two different programmes. At the zebra crossings at Goripalayam main intersection and Periyar bus stand, they will bring the traffic to a halt from 8 a.m. to 10.30 a.m. in order to demonstrate how they can be helped.

Each blind person will walk across the zebra crossing assisted by a volunteer drawn from city schools and colleges, invited guests or the IAB staff, who will show how to walk along a person who cannot see. Instructions will be continuously belted out on loudspeakers in the background and from mobile vans.

Says Shubhra, most people make the common mistake of lending their hand to the blind and then pulling them along across a busy road. Whereas, the most important thing to do is to first ask the person whether he or she needs help. If the offer to help is accepted only then the volunteer should stand next to the blind person’s free hand and allow him or her to grip the arm. A guide should never hold the blind person by arm or shoulder and push or pull them.

The public will be educated about many more such tips over the three hours. Pamphlets carrying the same messages will also be distributed randomly among the people.

While the zebra crossing walk will simultaneously take place at Goripalayam and Periyar bus depot with different batches of guides and visually impaired people participating at intervals of 15-20 minutes, an awareness rally will also be taken out during the same time from Race Course Road to Tamukkam grounds.

Though the traditional white cane is designed primarily as a mobility tool to detect objects in the path of the user, the blind people treat it more like an extension of their bodies, says Shubhra. Having worked for several such awareness campaigns in metros, she thought of roping in this time various sections of people along with the IAB for the pedestrian road safety initiative.

The Soroptimist International, Madurai, -- of which Shubhra is a newly inducted member – promptly agreed to adopt the project so valuable to the community.

The Taj group of hotels has been supporting various awareness campaigns for the blind in different metros over the years. This is the first time The Gateway Hotel at Pasumalai, Madurai, is chipping in by providing snacks to all the visually impaired participants. The other major supporters and sponsors of the event are the Hajeemoosa (distributing T-shirts to the IAB students), Lakshmi Vilas Bank (caps for all the participants), the Devadoss Multi-Speciality Hospital (printing more than 3,000 pamphlets containing the key do’s and don’ts for helping a blind person), Arc packaged drinking water and the Thiagarajar College of Arts (transportation). The Hindu is one of the media partners.

In the past, the IAB has been observing the White Cane Day with a symbolic rally or function in the city. This is the first time that different groups are collaborating and playing a critical role in strengthening the awareness campaign.

“The idea,” says Shubhra, “is to make people aware of different ways and collectively help the visually impaired people lead independent and active lives.”

The traditional cane of the blind was earlier known as the ‘Hoover cane’ after Dr.Richard Hoover designed it primarily as a mobility tool.

In 1921, an English photographer from Bristol, James Biggs, who lost his sight in an accident painted his walking stick white to make it more visible to vehicular traffic and all others on the road.

October 15, 2014, marks 93 years since the white cane was introduced.

In 1931 France launched a national white stick movement for blind people followed by USA. From 1964, the day was set aside for national observance around the world as White Cane Safety Day to celebrate the white cane as an important symbol of blindness and tool of independence.

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Printable version | Dec 4, 2021 6:54:24 PM |

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