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When you’re crossing a road or walking along a footpath, you will often rely on your sight to anticipate hazards. 

For a person who is blind or has low vision, it is a very different sensory experience. 

The white cane is a fundamental tool that has helped improve navigation and mobility for people who are blind or have low vision. 

For many, the white cane is the first thing that is associated with blindness and vision loss, however it is much more than that and is a symbol of accomplishment and independence that we must celebrate.

Today, on October 15, Vision Australia celebrates International White Cane Day, as we recognise the incredible impact that this revolutionary device has in building self-resilience and achievement for the blindness and low vision community. 

A symbol of independence and achievement

Despite being established in 1921, the white cane continues to be instrumental in enabling its user to safely anticipate obstacles, scan their surroundings and achieve daily tasks. 

The technology was initially created to alert motorists about blind and low vision pedestrians, ensuring the safety of the community when using public spaces.

Now 100 years later, the white cane remains an incredible tool used by many.

We’ve had clients who have used their white cane to march in protests, herd cattle and even to visit famous tourist spots like the Great Wall of China. 

Whether it’s crossing the road or travelling across the world, the device has created a revolutionary impact in promoting a more active and independent lifestyle. 

Silent hazards

Although the white cane has allowed many people who are blind or have low vision to build independence, many of our clients have revealed that they still encounter challenges when it comes to navigation and mobility.

A common concern is accessibility within public areas and the growing risks associated with footpaths, roads, and public spaces. 

A person who is blind or has low vision experiences several hazards that a sighted person may take for granted. They often must rely on sound to gain awareness of their surroundings. This can be challenging with silent hazards in public spaces, which can range from outdoor furniture, clothes rails and now more recently electric vehicles. 

In a recent Vision Australia survey, we discovered that pedestrians who are blind or have low vision have had an increasingly negative reaction to using footpaths as a result of e-scooters and other rideables rising in popularity. 

In particular, 35% of our respondents claim that they avoid footpaths more often since the rise of e-scooters and other rideables. The silent nature of these devices has led to a significant hazard, with 50% of respondents indicating that the quiet sound of e-scooters was a main issue. 

Other findings include: 

  • 82% said the prevalence of e-scooters on footpaths has led to them feeling less safe
  • 50% of respondents have had a near-miss on a footpath
  • 61% have encountered a trip hazard by a device being left on the footpath

We all must do our part to ensure public spaces are more accessible and safe for every person. 

Next time you’re using a footpath or using an electric vehicle, be more cautious of your surroundings and other pedestrians. Ensure your vehicle is stationed in a safe place that doesn’t create a tripping hazard. By taking these first steps and by being more empathetic, we can ensure we’re building a much safer environment for all communities.