White Cane Safety Day Celebration on Tap Tuesday at PSU
Author: Jillian Daley
Posted: October 14, 2019
A white cane is more than a tool that blind people use to explore the world around them, it also represents safety and equality.

For everyone to be safe, Mary Lee Turner, a lifelong legally blind person, said that abiding by the laws on public roads is critical. That’s one reason why Turner and the whole blind community unite to organize White Cane Safety Day every October 15—this year at Portland State University.

“The number of folks experiencing sight loss who have been hit and severely injured or killed is very high,” said Turner, chair of the Pedestrian Safety Action Coalition (PSAC). “I have been hit by one car. I’m a professional peripatologist. I walk a lot out there in the community. And being hit by a car has had a profound effect on my life. I sustained a brain injury, and it profoundly terrified me.”

PSAC teamed up with the PSU College of Education, American Council of the Blind, National Federation of the Blind, Oregon Commission for the Blind, and Portland Vision Zero of the Portland Bureau of Transportation on the event, which will be held from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Tuesday, October 15 outdoors on the south side of the Smith Memorial Student Union at 1825 SW Broadway Street.

"PSU's Orientation and Mobility program is about preparing professionals to serve anyone with visual impairment to develop navigation skills that allow them to fully access their communities and anywhere that they want to be," said Amy Parker, an assistant professor and the coordinator of the Orientation and Mobility Program in Amy Parker the Special Education Department in the College of Education.  "Organizations like NFB, ACB are our full partners in outreach and in growing professionals through awareness, advocacy, and leadership development. We proudly stand by their longstanding efforts to create more a more accessible and inclusive world."
The event will feature a public reading of the governor’s and mayor’s official proclamations of White Cane Safety Day at noon, followed by a short community walk during which attendees will cross Southwest Fourth Avenue together with white canes and guide dogs. The group will distribute information to passersby and return to Smith to revel in activities, such as live music, food, a raffle, and information on topics such as crosswalk laws that affect the more than 14,030 people who were blind or vision impaired in Portland as of 2017, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

“It’s important for the public to understand the laws put in place for blind and visually impaired people’s safety,” said Autumn Schaefer, a PSAC member.

Oregon crosswalk law (ORS 811.035) states that “A driver approaching a pedestrian who is blind or blind and deaf, who is carrying a white cane or accompanied by a dog guide, and who is crossing or about to cross a roadway, shall stop and remain stopped until the pedestrian has crossed the roadway.”

Bobi Earp, a PSAC committee member, said it’s not about being polite: It’s the law: “Don’t be nice; just be in the right.”

A white cane works not only works as a way to feel out one’s environment; it also represents the National Federation of the Blind’s (NFB) fight for the rights of the blind to establish training programs that incorporated white canes in the 1960s.

The NFB and its partners moved the U.S. Congress to adopt a resolution in 1964 that established October 15 as White Cane Safety Day and acknowledged that white canes provide people with blindness with the means to travel safely and independently. PSAC is carrying on that longtime tradition this week by teaching people that safe driving practices around people with white canes should happen every day.

“We want drivers to understand what they are seeing when they see someone with a white cane or guide dog, that they’re actually seeing a person who cannot see them and that’s what the white cane and the guide dog mean,” said Darian Slayton Fleming, a PSAC member.


Top: The Pedestrian Safety Action Coalition beams at a recent meeting. Photo by Jillian Daley

Bottom: Prof. Amy Parker said she is proud to stand with community partners during the White Safety Cane Celebration this week. Photo courtesy of PSU staff

To share stories on the PSU College of Education, email Jillian Daley.