Take this day to honor and learn about blind peopleBy JULIE LEWIS
© St. Petersburg Times
published October 15, 2002
If you were blind or severely visually impaired, would you be able to read the St. Petersburg Times? The answer is yes. (Find out how at the end of this article.) You can live independently, find employment, travel to and from work independently, and enjoy many of the leisure activities that are available to a person with sight. By learning adaptive skills and techniques for daily living, people who are blind or visually impaired are fully integrated and contributing members of our community.
By proclamation of the president of the United States, National White Cane Safety Day is celebrated annually Oct. 15. It is a day of special significance for blind and visually impaired citizens because it honors their accomplishments, spirit of independence and self-sufficiency.
The sighted community easily recognizes the white cane or a white cane tipped with red as a visible symbol of blind and visually impaired citizens in our society. It also is a reminder that "the only barriers against people with disabilities are discriminatory attitudes and practices that our society has too often placed in their way," according to the American Council of the Blind.
The white cane is a tool used by individuals who are blind and visually impaired that enables them to travel independently. It allows them to determine the location of curbs, steps and obstacles in their path. It gives them freedom of mobility. The Council of the Blind calls it the "staff of independence."
Members of the sighted community are willing to help a blind or visually impaired person but often don't know the best way to approach a given situation. As a public service in honor of White Cane Safety Day, here are the top 10 things you should know when encountering a person who is blind:
10. If you think assistance is needed, ask first and be willing to accept "no, thanks" as an answer.
9. If a dog guide is present, do not distract the guide. Never pet or offer food to a dog guide while in the harness.
8. Concentration is crucial for the visually impaired while traveling. If you have met before, reintroduce yourself by giving your name. Never ask them to guess who you are. Notify the person when you are leaving their presence.
7. When your offer for assistance has been accepted, present your elbow. Don't grab at them or push them along in front of you.
6. When providing directions, use words such as "left" and "right." Never use phrases such as "over there" or "that way."
As a driver, remember:
5. Pedestrians who are blind cannot see crosswalk markings. Watch for pedestrians waiting outside the crosswalks and at unmarked intersections.
4. Come to a complete stop at stop signs. Pause and then, when it is clear, continue with caution. Do not honk or shout that it is safe for them to proceed.
3. Remove confusion that can occur when a person who is blind has to find the path around your car. Stop before a crosswalk, not in it.
2. Pedestrians who are blind count on you to know and obey the rules of the road, including posted speeds.
1. Drivers of motor vehicles who fail to yield to persons carrying a white cane or a white cane tipped with red can be charged with a moving violation and fined under Florida law.
The Watson Center for the Blind and Visually Impaired Inc. is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization whose mission is to advance the independence and opportunities of the 40,000 residents of Pinellas County with severe vision problems.
It isn't easy to deal with the fact that sight -- which usually serves us so well -- can let us down, sometimes without much warning. The Watson Center can help. As a full-service rehabilitation center, it has one basic goal: to help people with vision loss develop and relearn skills they need to remain as independent as they choose to be, and that includes reading the St. Petersburg Times on a daily basis. By subscribing to the Radio Reading Service, or by connecting to the Internet with screen reading or magnifying software or other adaptive equipment, people who are blind or visually impaired have access to this column.
-- Julie Lewis is community education director for the Watson Center for the Blind and Visually Impaired in Largo.
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