White Cane Awareness Week Oct. 15-22

Los Alamos

What does a white cane mean to the ordinary citizen of Los Alamos? Mostly the answer is, “I don’t know.”

A white cane is a device used by a class of handicapped citizens in order to move about in a sighted world. Not all blind people are totally blind. Many have limited vision such as those who have glaucoma, pigmentosa or macular degeneration. The cane signifies that the person is blind though some persons out of vanity refuse to be identified by using a cane.

The most common cane is a six to seven foot long wand that one uses to sweep in front of themselves to identify obstacles that are a problem to the walker such as lamp posts, stairs or street curbs. Another one is the support cane that not only is white to denote blindness but is used as an ordinary walking cane to help with support and balance when walking.

Sighted pedestrians and motorists should recognize the cane and defer to the handicapped person as a courtesy. Anecdotes tell of motorists running over the tip of a wand of someone waiting to cross a street. There is no typical white can user. A 10-year-old youngster, a high school senior, old men and others have been spotted in the community. The Veterans Administration provides a two week long course for blind veterans at a facility in Arizona. 

All that any of these ask is that you recognize them and respect that they need a little accommodation. In the 1950’s when General Douglas MacArthur retired he took a farewell tour around the quadrangle at Fort Sam Houston, passing the ward annexes and main hospital of Brooke Army Medical Center. As he slowly made his way one of the patients in the blind ward who had limited vision sat in the window and described to the other patients what was going on below him on the quadrangle. There were a lot of white canes there.

White Cane Awareness Week will begin Oct. 4 with a proclamation that the week of Oct. 15 to Oct. 22 will by the county council action make the week official. There may be a similar proclamation by the governor.

Saturday, Oct. 15, Janet Morgan will lead a walk around Ashley Pond beginning at 11 a.m. and all persons are invited to participate to show support for recognition of those who use or can use a white cane.

Tuesday, Oct. 18 at the Betty Ehart Senior Center, Johnathan from the Commission for the Blind will give a presentation on white cane awareness during the noon luncheon (11:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.)

The LANL Community Relations Outreach Office will provide posters for distribution in the community by the Chamber of Commerce and for lab personnel use.

Supporting organizations are the American Legion, Veterans of Foreign Wars, the Elks Lodge, Knights of Columbus, Kiwanis, Rotary Club, United Way, Chamber of Commerce, LANL and the County of Los Alamos plus the Betty Ehart Senior Center.

The origin of the white cane recognition was in the office of former Gov. David F. Cargo who separated the services for the blind from the Health Department and created the Commission for the Blind in 1969. Cargo also proclaimed the first White Cane Week.