October 15th marked International White Cane Day. It’s a day to highlight the role the long white cane plays in orientation and mobility and independence for someone with blindness and low vision. The long white cane, also known as a mobility cane, is used to discover obstructions early to allow a person to navigate them safely.
With the borders across Australia opening up, we asked white cane users about their experiences with physical distancing in this new norm.
Peter from Glenorchy
“Perhaps one of the biggest challenges is waiting in line at the self-checkout area at the supermarket. I find it pretty difficult to know where to stand on a marker, or behind a line, and to know when a kiosk is available. When the markers and lines are not tactile, it makes it difficult to be able to comply.”
How can businesses help?
“The best encouragement I have for businesses in regards to people who use a white cane, is to continue to be patient and thoughtful with blind and vision impaired shoppers.
If businesses are in a position to make their floor markings (more) tactile or more visible that would be great. Having a smooth sticker on the ground in the shape of an X or a circle (which indicates where you are permitted to stand) does not have much utility for a person with limited vision.
Historically I have missed these spots to remind me to practice physical distancing.”
James from Newstead
“As I use a long white cane, approximately 56 inches in length, it is reasonably easy for me to ensure I am being responsible and physically distancing from others to the 1.5 metre requirement.
However, where the biggest challenges arise are with the sighted community. For instance, in public people are continually complacent about this distancing requirement and overstep the 1.5 metre into your personal space when shopping, queuing, to talk, etc. They become ‘put out’ when you have to ask them to remember to maintain distancing.
This also occurs when walking in public; especially with joggers, groups of more than two taking up whole footpaths and not moving to one side, forcing you to gingerly step down into bike lanes until they have passed. In addition, if they are coming from behind you, again not slowing down and keeping distance, but instead running around you on either side.”
How can the public help?
“Firstly, not being complacent about the 1.5 metre physical distancing requirements.
Secondly, if they see someone with a white cane, assume they can’t see you. Please provide appropriate verbal directions to sanitiser stations, distancing stickers on floors, etc.”
Carol from Kings Meadows
“During Covid19 lockdown the reduction in social events meant I felt more isolated. It was incredibly difficult to communicate and socialise. Social distancing is very hard for the Deafblind community as we rely on tactile cues. I really enjoy using my red and white cane, it give me independence both at home and in the community.”