White Cane Safety Day at the State Capitol

White Cane Safety Day at the State Capitol

By Steve Jacobson

On October 6, 1964, a joint resolution of Congress resulted in public law 88-628 being passed which designates October 15 as White Cane Safety Day.  Those of us in the Federation have been celebrating White Cane Safety Day for many years, but recently we have welcomed the increased interest of others.  For several years, a number of us have participated in the White Cane Safety Awareness event held at the Minnesota State Academy for the Blind (MSAB) in Faribault.  In addition to publicizing the importance of independent travel for blind persons, this event featured a walk along some of Faribault's busiest streets, providing an opportunity to show the public how blind people can travel independently.  However, a different approach was taken this year.

On October 15, members of the National Federation of the Blind of Minnesota participated with a number of other groups in a White Cane Safety Awareness event at the state capitol in St. Paul.  This event was planned by the Minnesota Academy for the Blind and the department of Education with financial contributions by the Minnesota State Academy for the Blind Foundation, Lions of Minnesota, Manitoba and Northwest Ontario, and the National Federation of the Blind of Minnesota.  Several busses of students and Academy staff made the trip from Faribault to participate in this event, but there were numerous other people in attendance as well, including students from our training center, Blindness: Learning in New Dimensions (BLIND), Incorporated. 

We gathered in the rotunda of our State Capitol to the sounds of the MSAB students singing a song that was composed about the white cane specifically for that day.  Two members of the state legislature also spoke to us.  Representative Patti Fritz, who represents the Faribault area, read a proclamation from Governor Dayton's office declaring October 15 as White Cane Safety Day in Minnesota.  In addition, Senator Vicki Jensen, who represents the Owatonna and Faribault area, also spoke, noting some of her efforts to assist the Academy.  After the program, we braved the forty-degree mist that turned into a cold rain as we walked with canes and dogs along a route that included University Avenue and John Ireland Boulevard.  Even with the less than desirable weather, spirits were high and the event was a success.

During the program, there were remarks presented on behalf of several groups.  Since our president was on her way to an important meeting on braille in Louisville, I presented the following on behalf of the NFB of Minnesota:

Good morning everyone.  White Cane Safety Day has long been an important activity of the National Federation of the Blind of Minnesota.  As many as forty years ago, we were distributing White Cane Safety leaflets in the downtown areas of major Minnesota cities, and we were instrumental in passing what is commonly referred to as a white cane law here in Minnesota.  It is therefore with great pride that we are participating in this activity today with the Minnesota State Academy for the Blind and other supporting organizations.

The white cane is far more than a stick.  It has become a symbol of independence for blind people in all walks of life; for children, college students, job seekers, and for those of us going to and from work every day.  The white cane represents hope for those who become blind as adults as well, and for senior citizens who want to live independently.  Whether we choose to travel with a cane or a dog guide, this symbol represents our ability to travel independently where we need to go to live a full life. 

Even so, there are still blind people for whom independence is an unfulfilled dream.  We need to make certain that every blind person has the opportunity to learn how to travel confidently with a cane or a dog guide.  In addition, we need to work together to maintain an adequate level of public transportation so that those of us who cannot drive can go to work, pay taxes, and do our part to give back to society.  In this way, the independence symbolized by the white cane can become a reality for every blind Minnesotan.  Thank you.