White cane is one of many tools that build independence
Lee’s Summit R-7 students Hunter Hall and Malikye Baston have a message to share with others about the white cane they carry when making their way around Lee’s Summit.
“The white cane helps me stay safe,” said Hunter, a Lee’s Summit North High School sophomore who has Leber’s congenital amaurosis and can only see light and dark as well as some colors and shapes. The cane is one of numerous tools he uses to be more independent.
Malikye, a Bernard Campbell Middle School seventh-grader who has retinitis pigmentosa resulting in night blindness and limited peripheral vision, agrees. He explained that the white cane not only helps people who are blind and visually impaired go from place to place, “the White Cane Law says that if someone doesn’t stop for a person using a white cane, he or she is responsible for what happens to that person – so it is important to yield.”
Both students are involved in the Lee’s Summit R-7 School District’s vision program which serves a small population of blind and visually impaired students within the district’s schools. Students in the program this year range in age from second to 10th grade and are learning how to use their white canes and other specialized mobility and assistive devices to successfully navigate in a visual world.
“The daily work by our Vision Department exemplifies the fundamental principles and beliefs of special education,” said Dr. Emily Miller, R-7 executive director of special services. “Specialized instruction is designed to support general education instruction, increase access and build upon strengths to empower students with disabilities.”
On Oct. 15 each year, a national day of observance – known as White Cane Safety Day – recognizes the ability of individuals who are blind or visually impaired to travel independently. The annual event is also designed to raise public awareness about the White Cane Law, which requires motorists to come to a complete stop when pedestrians with a white cane or a service dog cross a roadway.
“Our students can be as independent as their sighted peers given the correct accommodations and training,” said Leah Enright, R-7 certified orientation and mobility specialist. “The white cane is really a symbol of both independence and ability as opposed to a sign of disability.”
The R-7 vision program, which began in 2005, adapts the curriculum for each individual student. Like many students with special needs, students in the program attend classes with their peers during much of the school day. In addition, staff members in the Special Services Department help the students learn skills that will help them function at their highest potential. For several hours each week, students in the vision program work with Kristina Rains, R-7 teacher of visually impaired students, and Ms. Enright on mobility, orientation and other specialized skills that help them succeed in school and life.
Depending on each student’s individual education plan, their lessons may include instruction in independent living skills such as personal hygiene and food preparation; additional teaching in social skills; instruction in reading and writing Braille; teaching safe and efficient travel skills in both familiar and unfamiliar environments; and education through community learning experiences.
Students in the program, accompanied by Ms. Enright, participate in lessons in the local community so they can learn to safely travel city streets and effectively navigate within stores and other locations. During these excursions, it is not unusual for them to encounter members of the public who are curious about the students and their special training.
The students learn how to maneuver streets by listening to traffic and noticing other signals. Especially helpfully to the visually impaired are Lee’s Summit’s first two accessible/audible pedestrian signals added during spring 2014 at the corner of Second and Douglas as well as at the corner of Third and Jefferson in downtown Lee’s Summit.
“The students appreciate the opportunity to travel within Lee’s Summit and meet community members,” Ms. Enright said. “White Cane Safety Day provides us with a great opportunity to help our citizens learn about how they can interact with someone who is blind or visually impaired.”
A few guidelines provided through White Cane Safety Day follow.
- Treat blind people as any another person – they simply do things differently.
- Always yield to white cane and dog guide users at street crossings – it’s the law.
- Do not grab the person, cane or dog guide. When in doubt, ask if the person needs assistance.
- Do not pet a dog guide. Most dog guides are working and should not be petted since it can be distracting for the dog. Keep in mind that blind people treat their guide dogs and white canes as extensions of their bodies. Never distract guide dogs from their job or touch, move or grab a cane without the owner’s permission
- Identify yourself when you come in to a room and let the person know when you are leaving a room or location.
- Unless the individual has a hearing loss, there is no reason to speak loudly to someone who is blind or visually impaired.
Malikye Baston (left) and Hunter Hall navigate in downtown Lee’s Summit with the help of their white canes and special training through the Lee’s Summit R-7 vision program.