White Cane Day Illustrates Significant Role in Blindness and Low Vision
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White Cane Day Illustrates Significant Role in Blindness and Low Vision

White Cane Day, celebrated every year on Oct. 15, strives to bring awareness to the achievements of individuals with visual impairments and a tool often used to support their independence. For those with a visual impairment, including individuals with low vision to blindness, the white cane can support safe and independent travel. The importance and effective use of the white cane is just one aspect of independent travel students in Salus University’s Blindness and Low Vision Studies (BLVS) programs are taught. “We prepare our students to address the full scope of skills, techniques, and concepts that are needed to support individuals with visual impairments in navigating wherever they want to go in life, whether that’s school or work or in their communities,” said Jamie Maffit, MS ‘06, COMS, CLVT, RYT, director of the Orientation and Mobility (O&M) program at Salus.

Student practicing with a white caneAccording to Maffit, the white cane has three purposes:  identification that the user has a visual impairment and as a tool to explore the surrounding environment and helps provide protection and safety. When used properly the white cane allows the user to non-visually “preview” their travel surface so decisions can be made in advance to avoid obstacles, negotiate curbs, and locate steps, all common challenge areas for travelers with visual impairment.  

Salus O&M students learn how to use the long cane in O&M Techniques, a course taken during their summer residency on the Elkins Park, Pennsylvania campus. There, they undergo blindfold and low vision situations, learn to navigate indoor environments on campus, and residential neighborhoods like in Chestnut Hill, Pennsylvania, and then advance to navigating Center City, Philadelphia.

Maffit added that it takes an incredible amount of mental energy and focus for the students to learn these skills and attain a level of understanding and confidence in the effectiveness of the techniques, so they are able to teach the skills to those with visual impairments. “Our students need to learn to use the long white cane for safety and independence, and they need to spend a significant amount of time refining that skill as well,” said Maffit. “It’s something that takes time, focus, and energy.”

Student using a low vision deviceThe University’s BLVS programs teach core foundational techniques used for the long white cane. For example, there is a technique for navigating stairs — one for going up stairs and another for going down stairs. Techniques can also be adapted if the user has an additional disability, or is a young child. “But the core of the techniques is the same. It’s how they are adapted — in collaboration with their O&M instructor — to ensure that their risks are minimized,” said Maffit.

If you see someone using a white cane, remember the tool is used to explore their environment. As sighted individuals are aware of objects and obstacles in their surroundings by viewing them, oftentimes white cane users are only made aware of them by contacting them with their cane. Feel free to say hello, and while offering assistance may be appreciated, don’t assume help is needed. Finally, if driving or biking, follow white cane laws and yield the right-of-way. 

For more information on the BLVS programs, click here, visit salus.edu/admissions or call 800-842-6262 (choose option 1).

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