One way to get driver’s attention is to talk about points on their license. Another way is to blindfold them and lead them down the street in their own community. Changing perspectives, and raising awareness was a goal clearly met in our local White Cane Safety Awareness Day event last Fall.

The day was October 15, in the shade it was cold, but in the sun it was markedly warmer as it brilliantly lit up the flaming red, orange and remaining gold leaves along the tree-lined street. Even with limited, or no sight, or a blindfold on, one could appreciate this weather before the sidewalks turned into minefields of poorly shoveled snow and icy obstacles.

Before our experiential walk, attendees learned what every driver should know about Vermont’s White Cane Law, pertaining to fines and points that can be doled out when not fully yielding to a legally blind pedestrian. And for your reference, the American Council of the Blind (ACB) has compiled this list of white cane laws for each state.

As we maneuvered down the street, the sidewalk disappeared while crossing a seemingly vast parking lot along the edge of the road. The auto parts store was obviously not cognizant of the hazard they created when they decided to pave right over that sidewalk. A white cane could not decipher the difference between the road and the parking lot making it very difficult to navigate. This was something I was completely ignorant about despite my walking this route several thousand times before, as my peripheral vision must have memorized this subtlety years ago. These are the types of obstacles that the experiential walk sheds light on.

A gathering like this draws attention to other “road blocks” as well. Skip, a long time civil engineering contractor, enlightened me to some steep, dangerous new sidewalk installations around town. In a wheelchair himself, he expressed his concerns prior to construction, only to be ignored. He was headed to a select board meeting in a few weeks to voice his displeasure, something we are forced to do at times to educate and make things better. As a footnote, the sidewalk was fixed, at a cost that would have been much less had they done it right in the first place. Now wheelchairs, strollers, and the elderly can safely enjoy our town with little fear of taking this slope right into oncoming traffic. A win for all.

While mingling at the event, Joe, an adaptive sport instructor at a local ski area approached me about our low vision products, asking for a business card. Travelling light that day, I asked Jost, our Director of Development, if he had one on him. Joe and Jost recognized each other because Joe taught Jost’s son, who has Down’s Syndrome, how to ski. We are all connected. Disabilities touch us all, and events like White Cane Awareness Day always go far beyond their original purpose. And that is a good thing.

Get involved in a White Cane Day event this year by contacting your state’s agency of blind services. It’s springtime and they will already be thinking about venues and planning for their annual October event. Find your can and get outside to enjoy the weather while it lasts. Just be careful and remember your training!