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By Timothy Hornick, District Director 2

     When walking the blind place more than their best foot forwards, rather we proudly lead with our’ iconic symbol, the white cane. Each white cane represents the dignity, freedom, and possibilities accrued through generations of trail blazing blinded individuals fighting for equality to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. These emotions arise with every tap of the white cane or step from a guide dog. Without our devices and service dogs for guidance, those of us with a visual impairment would be left in the dark. However through our adaptive solutions, we proudly and independently conquer the world around us. Nothing else comes close to replicating what the white cane means, thus every October 15th, communities to international organizations celebrate White Cane Safety Day.

Since humans incurred sight loss, a variety of methods attempted to instill self reliance in travel. Canes and staves represented the oldest and most crudest tool. The goal involves detecting obstacles to determine ones location. The modern day white cane evolved shortly after World War I and perfected during World War II. War blinded WWI Veterans returned home to a fragmented system of care operated primarily by private and nonprofit entities. For returning WWII Veterans, President Roosevelt strove to avoid this situation through the June 1942 order for the War Department to assess and devise an integrated blind rehabilitation services. Less than a year later, Tech Sgt. C. Warren Bledsoe and Lt. Richard Hoover received the daunting task to stand up the first blind rehab center at theValley Forge Army General Hospital. Lt. Hoover tirelessly worked with returning blinded Service Members to perfect his own white cane technique, the Hoover Method or Two Touch Method. The technique quickly caught on and received high praise from the transitioning Veterans. March 28, 1945 the Blinded Veterans Association was formed by approximately 100 war blinded service members from Europe to advocate for continuing rehabilitation programs and benefits for blinded veterans. In 1947 the founders of the Blinded Veterans Association and the Veterans Administration fought to keep Hoover’s blind rehab program and techniques alive by transferring it from Valley Forge to the newly created Central Blind Rehabilitation Center in Hines, IL.

The Hoover Method or Two Point Touch Method quickly gained notoriety following WWII. The Two Touch Method refers to the two taps of the cane’s tip made during each stride. The goal is to step where the cane just tapped. The technique requires a degree of patience, flexibility, and willingness to explore. For over 75 years, the method required minor revisions, attesting to the strength and efficacy for cane travel.

The popularity and benefits of the white cane started to be recognized almost immediately. Starting in the 1930’s, blindness advocates championed the white cane through civic action and positive public demonstrations. The efforts immediately paid off with the passage of local and state laws increasing the safety and visibility for the white cane. These early victories accumulated into a tremendous win on October 6, 1964, when congress passed joint resolution H.R. 756. This law establishes the annual Presidential proclamation for White Cane Safety Day to be held on October 15th. President Lyndon B. Johnson proudly signed the law into effect by noting the, “White cane in our society has become one of the symbols of a blind person's ability to come and go on his own.” 

These sediments have been echoed by every subsequent President since then. The only change occurred in 2011 when President Barack Obama expanded upon the original proclamation’s intention and renamed White Cane Safety Day, Blind Americans Equality Day. The change captures the spirit of the law’s ultimate goal to remove any disparities experienced by the majority of blinded individuals in the pursuit for equality, accessibility, and independence.

Please join us on October 15th, living with a visual impairment through events on White Cane Safety Day and Blind Americans Equality Day by obscuring your vision or closing your eyes for 15 minutes. Spend the time reflecting on the power of our other senses and not the darkness of sight loss. We do not live by constantly thinking about how limiting blindness is. We live each day enjoying the independence and freedoms everything from the white cane to screen readers to Aira provides. The Blinded Veterans Association in our 74 year of advocacy representing our nation’s blinded veterans and families, join with the other organizations on White Cane Safety Day to raise awareness www.bva.org