Perkins marks 50th White Cane Safety Day with on-campus celebration

A student using a white cane to navigate.

Students used their white canes during a parade around the Perkins campus in honor of White Cane Safety Day. Photo Credit: Anna Miller

October 16, 2014

Perkins held its first ever campus-wide celebration of White Cane Safety Day on October 15, recognizing the importance of white canes and guide dogs in promoting independence among people who are blind or visually impaired.

“The last couple of decades have been a real game-changer in terms of adaptive technology leveling the playing field from an informational point of view,” said Paul Saner, commissioner of the Massachusetts Commission for the Blind. “However, those who are blind would not even be on the playing field if it weren’t for the white cane.”

This year marked the 50th anniversary of White Cane Safety Day, which was established by President Lyndon B. Johnson in 1964 as both a celebration of the white cane as a navigational tool and a reminder to motorists to stop when a person using a white cane approaches a street crossing.

To celebrate that milestone, Perkins students, teachers and staff gathered in Dwight Hall where Saner relayed the history of the white cane, which was first introduced during World War II. Since then, it has become a symbol of independence for the blind community and a centerpiece of the orientation and mobility field.

Saner, who uses a guide dog, Phoenix, for day-to-day travel, still relies on a white cane for short trips or in confined spaces like an airplane.

“It’s not that sexy looking, it’s not like a new Perkins Brailler,” he joked, “but it’s absolutely essential.”

Following the assembly, students gathered their canes and headed outdoors where they followed a parade route across the Perkins Pond. Several donned t-shirts decorated in honor of White Cane Safety Day and sang songs as their feet crunched through the fall leaves.

Many students used their white canes to navigate the route independently, an achievement not lost on alumna Lillian Johnson, who attended Perkins in the 1950s – before cane techniques were introduced in schools.

“I think it’s wonderful that students start at a young age to learn the use of the white cane,” she said. “Independence is so important and with the use of our cane or dog, we feel very safe in getting out and being in a world where there’s so much activity going on.”

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