Overcoming Barriers, One Step at a Time

Michele Denise Michaels with white cane

Michele Denise Michaels with her white cane

When you think about it, a white cane is a pretty rudimentary tool. There’s nothing high tech about it. There’s not much by way of design or engineering to speak of. It’s just a long skinny pole. And it’s white.

Back in 1921, a blind man named James Briggs painted his walking stick white in order to have greater visibility on busy streets that were becoming more and more congested with automobiles.

The use of a white cane to signify that a pedestrian was blind soon gained acceptance in Europe and the United States.

In a similar way, dogs have been working together with humans for millennia. It was a natural fit to train dogs to travel with people who are blind in order to navigate obstacles and move freely and efficiently.

“Dog guides and white canes are examples of how people who are blind, DeafBlind, or visually impaired find simple, practical solutions to accomplish their goals and lead full and productive lives,” says SSB Director, Natasha Jerde, “That’s why the celebration of White Cane Day on October 15 represents pride, independence, and achievement for blind, DeafBlind and visually impaired Minnesotans. Here at SSB, as we connect employers with job seekers, we see over and over again how a few simple, practical tools, whether it’s a white cane, or screen reading software, or better lighting enable our customers to excel in their work.”

Since 1964, the U.S. congress has designated October 15 as White Cane Safety and Awareness Day. The day now promotes awareness of both white canes and dog guides as recognized symbols of independence and access. Governor Walz has proclaimed Friday, October 15, 2021 as White Cane Safety Awareness Day in the State of Minnesota.

Ken Rodgers with guide dog

Ken Rodgers, an Affirmative Action Officer with the Minnesota Department of Transportation who uses a dog guide says, “White Cane Day for me represents the importance of independent travel for people who are blind. My guide dog is a tool I rely on for independence and dignity as a blind person.”

“I named my white cane Freedom,” says singer and vocal coach Michele Denise Michaels, “Because it takes me out my door, across busy streets, up and down stairs, through crowded airports, and onto concert stages. It means I travel with confidence and independence.”

Director Jerde and other SSB staff members will be sharing video clips in honor of White Cane Safety Awareness Day on the SSB website at mnssb.org.