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‘White Cane Safety Day’ is awareness event

By Staff | Oct 16, 2010

Motorists traveling past the Coralwood Mall late Friday morning may have noticed a group of people crossing the intersection — several times — with white canes in hand.
Members of the Southwest Florida Council of the Blind spent two hours at the intersection of Del Prado Boulevard South and Southeast 22nd Terrace trekking from one corner to the next. The walk marked White Cane Safety Day, a national observance held every year on Oct. 15.
White canes are used by the blind as tools to get around, but they have also become a symbol of a blind person’s ability to come and go on his or her own, according to the website of the National Federation of the Blind.
Mike Ulrich, president of the Southwest Florida Council of the Blind, said the walk Friday aimed to raise awareness of White Cane Safety Day and serve as a reminder for the public that pedestrians with white canes have the right of way when crossing the road.
“It’s just a nice, little general reminder,” he said.
The first of the state laws regarding the right of the visually impaired to travel independently with the white cane was passed in 1930, according to the National Federation of the Blind’s website. In 1966, the model White Cane Law was drafted. Today, a variant is on the statute books of each state.
Donald Werth, with the Southwest District of the Florida Regional Group of the Blinded Veterans Association, said White Cane Safety Day helps to raise awareness because people are uneducated about the white cane’s meaning.
“We already know that most people don’t pay attention to the cane and people don’t know what it means,” he said. “There are fines for violating the right of way.”
One motorist was ticketed during Friday’s walk for not stopping behind the white line at the intersection when a group member attempted to cross the road. The member, Doreen King, said she tapped on the vehicle’s window and asked if the driver knew what her white cane meant. The motorist did not.
A police officer on site pulled the driver over and handed out a $159 ticket.
“People need to be aware that white canes have the right of way,” King said.
At least once a week, Ulrich begins to cross a road on his turn when a driver will turn right in front of him. He said the vehicle’s tire will hit his white cane, sending it flying backward. Unfortunately, the close encounters are common.
“Just try to pay more attention,” he asked of the motoring public.
Michael Strohecker, a traffic engineering technician with the city, was also present Friday. He said the group talked to him about installing more audible crossings signals in the Cape for the blind, as well as pointed out things that would make it easier for them to cross at intersections.
“Because there’s other needs that they have,” Strohecker said.
Curb ramps and walkways made of materials that can be felt with a cane help direct visually impaired pedestrians across the road, he said. The group also talked about how uniformity at each intersection takes away any confusion, as well as how the path to a crossing signal button should be concrete under today’s codes.
“These are all the things that they wanted us to be aware of,” Strohecker said. “And we are aware of them.”
He recommended that request changes for an intersection to accommodate the blind should be made to either the city or the county, depending on which entity oversees the intersection.
The city’s Public Works Department can be reached at 574-0701. Or contact the Lee County department at 533-2737.
The Southwest Florida Council of the Blind meets on the third Saturday of each month from 10 a.m.-2 p.m. at the First Assembly Ministries, at 4701 Summerlin Road, in Fort Myers. For more information, contact 540-7431.
Kentucky Fried Chicken provided refreshments Friday during the walk.