By Darla Shelden
City Sentinel Reporter
OKLAHOMA CITY, OK – Heartland Council of the Blind (HCB) and the Department of Rehabilitative Services’ (DRS) Visual Services will hold a rally on Saturday October 14, to observe White Cane Safety Day. The event will take place at Penn Square Mall, 1901 Northwest Expressway in Oklahoma City, from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.
Participants will gather near the escalator in the center of the mall. Bus route 8 stops at the northwest corner of Penn Square Mall parking lot near Cheesecake Factory.
National White Cane Safety Day, is celebrated in mid-October every year by people who are blind or visually impaired.
Heartland Council is a chapter of the Oklahoma Council of the Blind, an affiliate of the American Council of the Blind. Visual Services is a division of the Oklahoma Department of Rehabilitation Services.
During the rally Oklahoma City Mayor Mick Cornett will read a proclamation regarding White Cane Day. Following his remarks, the group will walk through the mall to demonstrate white cane use and to answer questions. National White Cane Safety Day activities will officially end at 2 p.m.
The rally is meant to bring awareness to the connection between white canes and independence, and especially to remind people that the state law requires drivers to stay 15’ away from someone in the roadway using a white cane or dog guide.
“We use white canes as mobility tools to locate curbs, steps, uneven pavement, and other physical obstacles in our paths,” said Jay Doudna, HCB member and Oklahoma Council of the Blind public information officer. “To provide safety, we want the public to know that people with white canes are blind.”
Legal blindness occurs when vision is 20/200 or less in the better eye with the best possible correction, or the visual field is restricted to 20 degrees or less.
“This is the ninth year that Heartland Council of the Blind has sponsored the annual White Cane Day,” said Frances Poindexter, HCB president. “This event helps educate and make the public aware that white canes help blind people travel safely when they go out to do anything that sighted people do.”
Jean Jones, who is visually impaired, is a HCB leader and legislative information representative for Visual Services said, “Blind people are customers just like everyone else. We try to be full participants in the economy and our society, and we are able to do so if we can travel and get to stores like others.”
Last year while in the mall many advocates stopped for lunch and began their Christmas shopping.
The number of Oklahomans who have vision difficulties, even when using corrective lenses, totals 134,679, according to the 2016 one-year estimate from the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey. This estimate includes several levels of vision impairments, including those who may be white cane users.
The first white cane laws were drafted in 1964, around the time that National White Cane Safety Day was established by presidential proclamation. Today, similar laws exist in all 50 states and in the District of Columbia.
Under Oklahoma law, only blind people may carry white canes, with or without red tips. The white canes are universally recognized as mobility aids for people with vision impairments.
State law also requires drivers to completely stop their vehicles 15 feet away from pedestrians who are visually impaired who are using white canes or dog guides. People who violate this law are guilty of a misdemeanor punishable by imprisonment for up to three months or $100 fine or both.
The Heartland Council of the Blind is an organization of blind, visually impaired and sighted people from central Oklahoma. Members of the group gather to socialize, discuss issues related to visual impairment and to advocate for a better quality of life.
The Oklahoma DRS annually assists more than 84,000 Oklahomans with disabilities. DRS’ Visual Services division helps Oklahomans who are blind or visually impaired with career planning, employment and development of skills that help them function more independently with vision loss.
For more information about National White Cane Safety Day call 405-642-1068 or 405-522-3382. To learn more, visit hcbokc.org.