White Cane Safety Day – Spring 2021
Authors: Christopher Tabb, Statewide Orientation and Mobility Coordinator, TSBVI Outreach Program
Keywords: White Cane Safety Day, Blind Americans Equality Day, Blind Awareness Month, TSBVI
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White Cane Safety Day is generally recognized on October 15th each year and was originally established by President Lyndon B. Johnson in 1964. President Johnson said, “A white cane in our society has become one of the symbols of a blind person’s ability to come and go on his [her] own.” Today, White Cane Safety Day is celebrated in different ways across the country, and although they don’t always occur on October 15th, celebrations are typically scheduled around that date. This seems fitting as October is also known as Blindness Awareness Month. White Cane Safety Day has also come to be known as Blind Americans Equality Day, as introduced by a proclamation from President Barack Obama in 2011. President Obama’s proclamation stated, “On Blind Americans Equality Day, we celebrate the achievements of blind and visually impaired Americans and reaffirm our commitment to advancing their complete social and economic integration.”
In Austin, the annual White Cane Day Celebration has had multiple homes. For many years it was held downtown at Republic Square Park and included a march from the State Capitol to Austin City Hall, where speeches were given. The activities continued at the park with music, food, games, activities, and exhibitors. Featured musicians usually included those who were blind or visually impaired, and the games were selected based on ease of adaptability. For the last several years, the annual event has been held at Texas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired (TSBVI) and is open to the public. Students at TSBVI and community members have enjoyed face painting, games, and physical activities like hamster balls and bounce houses.
In Houston, the White Cane Safety Day event typically begins with a march that goes through the city and culminates at City Hall. Then, a big celebration begins with live music, food, exhibitors, and more. 2020 marked the 13th annual White Cane Safety Day celebration and the first ever virtual celebration for Houston. 2020 Event Chair Benigno Aceves wanted to truly bring the city an “Out of this World” program lineup. This was accomplished by hosting two speakers from NASA. Hundreds of attendees from across the state participated in lively virtual interactions, listened to engaging speakers, experienced star performances by blind Houstonians, and won virtual door prizes! Houston’s White Cane Safety Day committee and supporting partners continued to give the message to always reach for the stars and strive to achieve your goals. The celebrations for Austin and Houston are heavily supported by the Texas Workforce Commission (TWC) and generally occur on different days in order to ensure appropriate distribution of resources and encourage increased attendance by individuals across the state.
Over the years, North Texas has celebrated White Cane Safety Day with a walk in downtown Fort Worth that includes a lunch gathering at Northside Stockyards and a trip to Kimbell Art Museum. Each year the North Texas celebration tries to incorporate the history of White Cane Safety Day into its celebration while also providing an opportunity to use independent travel skills via a walk in the downtown area, a scavenger hunt at the Stockyards, and by navigating the many exhibits at the museum. North Texas also provides an opportunity to explore a stationary bus, ride a city bus, and visit with vendors.
Although the 2020 celebrations of White Cane Day were significantly impacted by COVID-19 pandemic safety measures, the day continued to be one in which the independence and abilities of people who are blind and visually impaired was highlighted. Austin, Houston, and North Texas held virtual celebrations with guest speakers to help honor and recognize the importance of the day along with the independence it represents.