SASKATOON – As White Cane Awareness Week continues, the Canadian National Institute For The Blind (CNIB) has a message for you: Don’t assume everyone with a white cane is completely blind but don’t forget to offer help.
“Unlike a broken arm, you put a cast on the arm. Boom … people know what happened. With vision loss, nine times out of 10, you have no idea the person’s got vision loss,” said Danae Mack, an orientation and mobility specialist with CNIB.
$750K to help visually impaired students in Saskatchewan
Advocates calling for official government ID for service dogs
How a smartphone may revolutionize eye care
Mack says there are certain things anyone on the street can do when approaching a person with a cane. Don’t assume they have a cognitive delay, don’t assume they’re blind and don’t grab them without identifying yourself and asking for permission.
Aside from being the universal symbol of vision loss, the white cane can also be a person’s ticket to freedom. When Gerry Nelson lost his vision 27 years ago, he assumed things would never be the same.
“When used properly, it will pick up obstacles like curbs and steps and automobiles. Anything that you can imagine, that cane will pick it up,” he said.
READ MORE: Kamloops chef with visual impairment helps feed those in need
When Nelson is out in public without his white cane, he says he can feel the difference.
“If you encounter a two or three curb with which you have to step up and you don’t know it’s there, you’re going to stub your toe and fall flat on your face,” he adds.
Holding the cane in front and sweeping it back and forth helps the user know what’s there. The cane is also great for identification purposes, allowing others to know a visually impaired person may need help.
More than anything, Mack says the last thing a visually impaired person needs is pity.
“Their lives go on. They’re no different than anyone else. Just part of who they are is that they have vision loss,” she said.