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Drivers need to watch out for pedestrians with white canes

White cane safety day: Canes identify blind or vision-impaired people

Around 25 people attended a White Cane Safety Day event Monday at the State Building in Wailuku. The white cane is a symbol of independence and blindness. Organizers are hoping the event will raise awareness among motorists to be considerate when people with disabilities are crossing the street. • The Maui News / MELISSA TANJI photo

WAILUKU — With a steady beat, Lyn Stewart tapped her white cane on the sidewalk as she and about 25 others headed up Wells Street in Wailuku on Monday to mark national White Cane Safety Day.

The white or red cane with a white tip used by the visually impaired for walking is a “staff of independence,” said President Lyndon B. Johnson.

Through a joint resolution of Congress, Johnson officially set in motion Oct. 15 as “White Cane Safety Day” in 1964, according to the National Federation of the Blind’s website.

“I like it because it brings awareness to the public. . . . There is a need to watch out for people that walk with a cane,” said Angie Haramoto, a member of the Kahului Lions Club and first vice district governor for District 50 Hawaii.

The Lions Clubs of Maui, along with Project Vision and Aloha Independent Living Hawaii, were all part of the Maui event Monday, which included vision screenings by Project Vision and a proclamation by Mayor Alan Arakawa at the State Building in Wailuku.

Kathleen Kenney (left) of Aloha Independent Living and Lyn Stewart of Kahului walk down Main Street in Wailuku on Monday as part of White Cane Safety Day. Stewart began losing her vision in 2011 due to macular degeneration and now can only see shapes. • The Maui News / MELISSA TANJI photo

There also was a short walk in Wailuku town to spread awareness and information about White Cane Safety Day.

Haramoto said she too often sees people not waiting for pedestrians in crosswalks, especially those who have disabilities. She urged motorists to be patient because some people may not see or be able to hear cars.

And according to Hawaii law, people who are blind or visually impaired have the right of way at street crossings. Drivers must take reasonable precautions when approaching a person who is blind or visually handicapped and is carrying or using a cane or walking stick that is white or red and white tipped.

Drivers also need to be aware of blind or visually impaired people using a guide dog.

Since 1917, the Lions Club has aided the blind and visually impaired. In 1930, the Lions Club began promoting the use of white canes for people who are blind as identification for special travel consideration.

In Hawaii in 2016, there were 24,491 people who reported having difficulty with their vision, the American Federation for the Blind said. This included people who have serious difficulty seeing even when wearing glasses as well as those who are blind.

Vision impairment could happen to anyone at any age, not only the elderly, said Kathleen Kenney, a certified orientation and mobility specialist for people with minimal vision and blindness.

Kenney, who also is part of Aloha Independent Living Hawaii that coordinated Monday’s event, says she works with an elementary student who has vision impairment.

American Federation for the Blind statistics show more people with vision difficulty for ages 35 to 64, 8,867, compared to 7,947 for those 75 or older.

Kenney oversees the Maui Vision Impairment and Blindness Education and Peer Support Group, which was founded by Stewart and Betty Vogel.

Kenney walked beside Stewart on Monday during the stroll through Wailuku.

Stewart said she hasn’t had an accident involving cars but has been cut off by cars while walking in a crosswalk.

Kenney noted that motorists should watch for cues that a visually impaired person is crossing the street. The person may raise his or her cane high in the air before crossing the street or may even wave the cane in front of them.

Stewart began losing her eyesight in 2011, due to macular degeneration. The Kahului resident currently is legally blind; she can see shapes but not details.

Since her vision loss, Stewart said she has learned how to pick her heels off the pavement when she walks so she will not trip on uneven surfaces. Kenney said that people with vision loss may shuffle their feet as a way to be cautious when walking but this actually makes it easier for them to trip.

Residents could make it easier for the blind to walk by moving trash cans off of the sidewalks, Kenney said. Others taking part in the walk discussed other everyday details that could be improved to help them.

Teresa Massoth of Kihei said she would like larger newsprint so she can see the words. Violet Martinez of Wailea said she would like larger street signs and crosswalks with sound cues.

Other tips:

• Don’t assume an individual who is legally blind needs help. Always ask if the person needs assistance.

• Do not grab the person or the cane. When offering assistance while walking, allow the person to take your arm or elbow.

• When driving and seeing a person using a white cane or service dog getting ready to cross the street, do not beep your horn or yell. Stop before the crosswalk, do not make a right turn on red and allow the person to cross.

The Vision Impairment and Blindness Education & Peer Support Group meets from 1 to 2:30 p.m. on the last Wednesday of the month at the Ohana Health Plan meeting room at 285 W. Kamehameha Ave., Suite 101B, in Kahului.

For more information, contact Kenney at kathleenk@alohailhawaii.org or call 866-4690.

* Melissa Tanji can be reached at mtanji@mauinews.com.

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