By Darla Shelden
City Sentinel Reporter
OKLAHOMA CITY, OK – On Saturday, October 13, the Heartland Council of the Blind will celebrate its 10th annual National White Cane Safety Awareness Day in Oklahoma City. The event will focus on the importance of the white cane as a tool to achieve independence and a symbol of people with vision loss.
The event is traditionally celebrated on or near October 15 in Oklahoma and the nation.
Heartland Council members will gather at 11 a.m. in Bricktown with participants from Visual Services in the Oklahoma Department of Rehabilitation Services (DRS) along with members of Veterans Independence Through Adaptive Living (VITAL).
Walkers will meet near the statue of Mickey Mantle on the east side of S. Mickey Mantle Drive, outside the third base entrance to the Dodgers Field. The public is invited to participate.
The group will hear inspirational remarks and commemorative proclamations by Governor Mary Fallin and Oklahoma City Mayor David Holt. Then walkers using white canes and dog guides, and supporters will head out for a 35-45 minute walk in Bricktown.
“White Cane Safety Awareness Day is the day that blind people throughout the United States remember and acknowledge the legislation passed to recognize the white cane and dog guides, which enable people who are blind or visually impaired to travel safely and independently,” Sandi Webster, President of the Heartland Council of the Blind, said.
Walkers are invited to gather to share lunch at their own expense following the event.
“White Cane Safety Day is important because with activities like our walk in Bricktown, we have an opportunity to educate the public about the capabilities of people who are blind or visually impaired,” said Vicky Golightly, president of the Oklahoma Council of the Blind and secretary of the Heartland Council of the Blind. “Our canes and dog guides assist us to navigate our environment, whether we’re dining at our favorite restaurant, watching a movie, or conducting normal business activities.”
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.
“As the state agency helping Oklahomans who are blind achieve employment and independent living goals,” Visual Services is happy to join our partners and friends for White Cane Safety Awareness Day,” Visual Services Administrator Tracy Brigham said. “With proper training, people using the white cane can achieve greater mobility and safety by locating curbs, steps, uneven pavement and other physical obstacles in their paths.”
White Cane Safety Day was first established by presidential proclamation in 1964. The first white cane laws were drafted around that time. Today, similar laws exist in all 50 states and in the District of Columbia.
“Approximately 3.5 percent of the population or 134,679 Oklahomans have vision difficulties and may be potential white cane or dog guide users,” said Noel Tyler, DRS Executive Director. “In spite of advancing technology, the traditional white cane is a vital tool that enables people who are blind to travel independently.”
Under Oklahoma law, only blind people may carry white canes with or without red tips, which are universally recognized as mobility aids for people with vision impairments.
Oklahoma law requires drivers to completely stop their vehicles 15 feet away from pedestrians who are visually impaired and identified by their use of white canes with red tips 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 same law protects people who are deaf or hard of hearing using signal dogs identified by bright orange collars and those with physical disabilities using assistance dogs.
Heartland Council is a chapter of the Oklahoma Council of the Blind, an affiliate of the American Council of the Blind. The organization is comprised of blind, visually impaired and sighted people from central Oklahoma who socialize, discuss issues related to visual impairment, and advocate for a better quality of life.
Each year the Oklahoma Department of Rehabilitation Services assists more than 97,000 Oklahomans with disabilities.
In 2017, DRS’ Visual Services provided career counseling, technology, training and job placement services that helped 203 Oklahomans who were blind or visually impaired in finding employment. They earn an annual average of $23,078 and pay $3,462 in annual taxes.
For more information about Heartland Council of the Blind and National White Cane Safety Day events in Oklahoma City, contact Vicky at [email protected] or 405-740-6227.
To learn more about Oklahoma DRS programs for citizens who are blind or visually impaired, call Visual Services at 800-487-4042 or visit okdrs.gov.