By Jack Tovey, UC Santa Barbara

Members of the Santa Barbara Braille Institute walked downtown on White Cane Safety Day to raise awareness on the importance of the white cane’s practical use as a tool for enhanced mobility and symbolism of independence to the visually impaired.

Students and staff members representing the Braille Institute resembled a family as they talked and laughed with one another. Surrounding pedestrians admired the students’ bravery and commitment as they carried the White Cane Safety banner along the sidewalk.

Marching with the Braille Institute was member Adelaide Ortega. “In 1985, I lost my eyesight. I had my son, I was working,” said Ortega. “Then when that happens, your whole world changes. Everything. I had to start all over learning how to do things. ”

Ortega experienced losing her sight at an older age rather than at birth, challenging her to learn how to perform day-to-day activities without her vision.

Orientation and mobility specialist Brianna Pettit stated, “Most of the people that I work with have lost their vision later in life. The Braille Institute is a great community for that because there are a lot of people that are dealing with similar issues that come up with losing their vision.”

The Santa Barbara Braille Institute is a center that strives to empower visually impaired people to live fulfilling lives. Student Services Manager Tracy Alfino said, “Our main objective is to help blind people become more independent.”

Now teaching the ceramics class at the Santa Barbara Braille Institute, Ortega has found appreciation and love for her community: “The Braille Institute saved my life, really.”

The Braille Institute is a place that really does exemplify the meaning of community to the fullest extent. They offer free programs and services in low vision rehabilitation, expand public education about visually impaired people, and build braille literacy.

Thanks to a group of committed people in the 1960’s, National White Cane Safety Day was effectively established.

According to the National Federation of the Blind, back in 1964 the National Convention of the Blind assembled and called upon governors to proclaim October 15th of each year as White Cane Safety Day in each of our fifty states. On October 6, 1964, President Lyndon B. Johnson passed legislation to enact this upright request. Johnson commended the blind for the “growing spirit of independence and the increased determination to be self-reliant that the organized blind had shown”.

The simple tool of the white cane has enabled blind people to go move around their environment, and to compete and live amongst others in society. Pettit described the physical importance of the white cane to blind people: “It’s like an extension of their body. Wherever the cane is contacting something, they’re responding to it.”

Not only does the white cane act like a physical radar for blind people, but it also serves as a sign to others to show special consideration and courtesy.

The White Cane Law states that a totally or partially blind pedestrian who is carrying a predominately white cane, or using a guide dog, shall have the right-of-way. The driver of any vehicle approaching this pedestrian who fails to yield the right-of way, or take all responsibility necessary precautions to avoid injury to this blind pedestrian is guilty of a misdemeanor.

Public awareness events such as this one are worthwhile to experience because they remind others of both the adversities and independent mobility of the visually impaired. The more educated people are about the hardships and perseverance of visually impaired people, the closer the community will become.

The Braille Institute encourages everyone to learn more about their causes, classes, and overall unique position in the Santa Barbara community.