By Darla Shelden
City Sentinel Reporter
OKLAHOMA CITY, OK ─ White cane users with visual disabilities and sighted supporters will celebrate National White Cane Safety Awareness Day on Tuesday, October 15 with a walk through downtown Oklahoma City.
The public is invited to show their support for this event, sponsored by Visual Services, which will be held from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. near the Ronald J. Norick Downtown Library located at 300 Park Avenue.
The Visual Services (VS) division, which provides employment and independent living services, is part of the Oklahoma Department of Rehabilitation Services.
VS will change its name on November 1 to the Division of Services for the Blind and Visually Impaired.
Participants will hear remarks and commemorative proclamations submitted by Governor J. Kevin Stitt and Oklahoma City Mayor David Holt.
During the event, DRS Executive Director Melinda Fruendt will join walkers using white canes, dog guides, and supporters for a 35-45 minute walk near the Norick library.
White Cane Day walkers will hand out cards with a summary of the law requiring drivers to stop for white cane users, along with a thank you to drivers stopping during the celebration.
Walkers are invited to meet for lunch at their own expense after the event.
“Our goal of celebrating White Cane Safety Awareness Day with a public walk is to not only celebrate, but also to educate about blindness and low vision,” said Visual Services Administrator Tracy Brigham. “Many people in the community haven’t seen individuals navigate with white canes and aren’t aware of the law in place to provide safety to those using a cane.
“We want to bring awareness as often as possible,” Brigham said. “The public is welcome to join us on the walk, or to come and get information.”
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.
Oklahoma law also stipulates that only blind people may carry white canes with or without red tips, which are internationally recognized as mobility aids for people with vision impairments.
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.
“Approximately 3.6 percent of the population or 138,700 Oklahomans report vision difficulties and may be potential white cane or dog guide users, according to the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2017 American Community Survey estimates,” DRS Executive Director Melinda Fruendt said.
“As the state agency serving Oklahomans who are blind, we know there is strong connection between effective cane use, travel safety and reaching personal goals for employment and independence,” Fruendt added.
White Cane Safety Day was first established by presidential proclamation in 1964 and the first white cane laws were drafted around that time. Today, similar laws exist in all 50 states and the District of Columbia.
For more information about Visual Services’ White Cane Safety Awareness Day, please contact Liz Scheffe, 405-246-5615 or [email protected].
In 2018, DRS’ Visual Services provided career counseling, employment, technology, and training and job placement services for 1,148 Oklahomans and helped 131 find employment.
The successful jobseekers earn an annual average of $23,846 and pay $3,577 in annual taxes. The Oklahoma Department of Rehabilitation Services annually assists more than 83,540 Oklahomans with disabilities.
For information about programs offered by Visual Services, call 800-487-4042 to reach the nearest office, or visit the DRS website.