White Cane Safety Day is a worldwide celebration to highlight the achievements of people who are blind or vision impaired and the symbol of blindness and tool of independence, the white cane. In our society today, the white cane has become one of the most recognized symbols of a blind person’s ability to live independently. It is now widely acknowledged as a symbol representing blindness and mobility. This year the NCBI (National Council for the Blind of Ireland) highlights the necessity of all members of society to be more aware of those carrying a white cane and in so doing, to ensure safe travel for those who use it.
The ability to travel safely and independently is a crucial issue in today’s society. We all wish to reach our destinations in the safest and quickest way possible. This is no different for those who are blind or vision impaired. However, as we celebrate White Cane Day, NCBI representing 13,000 blind and vision impaired people nationwide, wishes to point to some innovations that are threatening the safe and independent travel of its service users.
A primary tool used for orientation by blind and vision impaired persons is audible or acoustic information. When crossing a road at traffic lights, a blind or vision impaired person is reliant on the audible traffic signals. Unfortunately however, such traffic signals are not commonplace in Ireland. As a result, a blind or vision impaired person must listen to traffic in order to determine when it is safe to cross. For example, in order to determine when the light at an intersection turns green they listen to the direction of travel of the vehicles, knowing that when the parallel traffic moves forward, it is safe to cross. When crossing at an intersection without traffic lights, they listen for oncoming traffic.
The problem with lack of audible traffic signals has now been compounded in recent years by the development of the “silent vehicle”. As a result of this new technology, essential acoustic information is now unavailable. By the time a blind person (or anyone) can hear the much quieter motor of these silent vehicles, there is insufficient time to safely cross a road. While clearly a less noisy environment is desirable NCBI assert that introducing a minimum sound standard in these vehicles will not affect the environmental benefits of this new vehicle technology. Indeed such modification is an absolute necessary to ensure the safe and independent travel of blind persons.
The World Blind Union (WBU) asserts that “more work must be done to ensure that changes in vehicle and environmental design create a safer and more environmentally friendly situation for all citizens and that they don’t inadvertently construct barriers to independence”. As part of White Cane Day, it calls upon governments, regulators, designers and manufacturers to establish and implement standards that will ensure universal access for all persons with disabilities. NCBI calls on all stakeholders to discuss possible implications of proposed design change so that issues which may be identified can be dealt with in the early stages. In this way, our environment can become an aid to safe an independent travel for everyone including those who are blind or vision impaired.