[Nfbmo] Hey, What's With the White Cane

Gary Wunder gwunder at earthlink.net
Mon Oct 17 15:15:30 UTC 2016

I wonder how many of you share this experience? I do not. Quite frequently I
hear people telling their children that they should move out of the way
because there is a man with a cane. When they are asked what the man is
doing with the stick, the parents explain that this is the way he sees what
is in front of him. I do not find the younger generation unaware of what the
white cane stands for, and I do not believe that allowing foolish portrayals
of blind people to appear without challenge diminishes the number of white
canes we see on television. If it does, this only makes it more imperative
that we press for realistic blind characters to appear on the screen. I just
can't get my head around the idea that the cost of demanding accuracy in
television depictions is that no one knows what that long white stick is

I'd love your thoughts.

-----Original Message-----
From: Nfbmo [mailto:nfbmo-bounces at nfbnet.org] On Behalf Of nancy Lynn via
Sent: Wednesday, October 12, 2016 9:47 AM
To: mcb chat; nfbmo list; NFBC List
Cc: nancy Lynn
Subject: [Nfbmo] Hey, What's With the White Cane

I got this from another list and thought you'd like to see it.
Hey, What's With the White Cane?.

Honest depictions of disabled people have vanished from popular culture.. By
Jim Knipfel . Oct. 15 is national White Cane Safety Day, first decreed by
President Lyndon B. Johnson in 1964. Never heard of it? You're not alone.
I'll admit, even as a blind man who uses a white cane on a daily basis, Oct.
15 doesn't get my heart racing, save for one irony: It's not just the day
that Americans don't recognize; increasingly it's the white cane and what it
symbolizes. Think of it as another kind of blindness. I began noticing the
signs roughly seven years ago. My wife and I were in New York City on a
Saturday night, working our way down a crowded sidewalk on our way to a
show. The going seemed unusually slow and frustrating, even for New York.
Soon the reason was clear: No one was stepping out of the way to let us
pass. Some were transfixed by cellphones, but others looked directly at us,
looked at my cane with some confusion, and still refused to take a step in
either direction. I soon realized that many people under the age of 35, not
just in New York City, but across the country, no longer know what a white
cane represents. On more than one occasion, people in their 20s have
approached me and asked, "What's that cane for? For millennia the blind have
used canes and staffs as navigational tools to help detect obstacles in our
path. After World War II, with so many blind veterans returning home, the
standard cane design was refashioned. Mobility sticks grew longer and were
wrapped in red and white reflective tape. By the time LBJ made his 1964
declaration, the white cane was an accepted part of the culture. So how
could a symbol of disability as common as the wheelchair so abruptly vanish
from our collective consciousness? A friend has a theory. In the 1980s and
'90s, as political correctness began infiltrating popular culture, it became
verboten to portray the disabled, particularly the blind, in anything
perceived to be an unflattering light. In a blink, bumbling characters with
white canes, once a mainstay of slapstick films, cartoon shorts and comic
strips, vanished. What blind characters we did get now had superpowers or
were masters of the martial arts, and rarely had any use for a white cane,
even as a signifier. As a result, children who once grew up with images of
characters with white canes no longer saw them, and so the common
understanding of the blind and our symbology began to fade. Questions of
"dignity," "respect" and "inclusion" aside, expunging blind characters from
pop culture for fear of offending someone has had dangerous repercussions
when it comes to the daily lives of blind Americans. If fewer and fewer
people recognize its meaning, what use does the cane maintain as a symbol
directed at the sighted? Pedestrians who once stepped out of the way are now
occasionally hostile obstacles. And with hybrid and electric cars growing
quieter, walking just a few blocks in a well-known neighborhood can become a
perilous journey. Despite all the far-reaching achievements of the Americans
with Disabilities Act, the tool that I and other blind Americans have
trusted to give us some modicum of protection and visibility is fast losing
all meaning. Ironically, the best way for us to mark White Cane Safety Day
may well be to stay home. Mr. Knipfel, a former staff writer for the New
York Press, is the author of "Residue" (Red Hen Press, 2015). .

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