White Cane Day: Raising Awareness About Independence and Safety

Sheila Koenig holding white cane at light rail station

“Every day Blind, DeafBlind, and low vision Minnesotans are out and about in our communities,” said State Services for the Blind (SSB) Director Natasha Jerde. “They’re going to work, they’re picking up their kids, they’re visiting friends, they’re running errands, they’re heading off on a travel adventure; in short, they’re doing all the things that all of us do, and they’re working with a dog guide or using a white cane as a way to get where they’re going.”

On White Cane Day, October 15, 2023, SSB staff, volunteers and members of the State Rehabilitation Council for the Blind celebrated the white cane and dog guide as symbols of independence, freedom, and opportunity. White Cane Day is also a day to raise awareness about how blind, DeafBlind, and low vision Minnesotans make our economy and our communities richer and more vibrant – and the role we all play in ensuring the safety of those who use a white cane or guide dog. All Minnesotans should learn and abide by the state’s White Cane Safety Law which requires drivers to stop for a person using a white cane or a guide dog crossing at any intersection.

Travel skills can be part of the training that SSB provides to customers who are building their skills for independence and to pursue their career goals. SSB connects customers with an orientation and mobility (O&M) specialist who teaches travel skills such as techniques for using a white cane. In addition to working with community partners to provide this training, SSB now has two O&M instructors on staff to work with customers.

“The fact that we have a White Cane Safety Law is so important to our customers in terms of travel safety, confidence, and independence,” said Jennifer Pelletier, an O&M Specialist on staff at SSB.

But the white cane stands for much more than safety – it stands for independence.

“Understandably, many adults who are adjusting to their blindness are reluctant to use a cane. That mental transition is a tough one, though often when they experience using a cane for the first time it opens up a whole new world,” Said Jennifer. “One SSB customer with some functional vision, remarked that she noticed the fall leaves for the first time in years when she started using a cane. Before using a cane, her head used to be down all the time searching for obstacles in her path.”

Michell Gip also serves customers as part of SSB staff. Michell recalled a customer with SSB’s Senior Services section who was also reluctant to use a cane. However, the customer reached the point where he realized he wanted to not rely on his wife or simply not go out at all. Michell reports that this same customer learned how to use a white cane and recently took a vacation. “He was empowered when he navigated the airport and independently navigated the hotel and went for walks in Mexico,” Michell says. “As an O&M Specialist I thrive in empowering our customers to gain independence by using their white cane.”

SSB’s Sheila Koenig manages services for young adults ages 14 – 21. She spoke at a White Cane Day event in Rochester. In her remarks she noted her pride in the blind, DeafBlind, and low vision young adults who are using a white cane as they travel in their communities. “The white cane and the dog guide are tools for independence, equality, and achievement.”