White Cane Day is a reminder to be mindful of blind pedestrians

Oct. 11, 2021

For more information, contact Heidi Manlove, Pedestrian and Bicycle Safety Manager, 503-986-4196

SALEM — Blind people who use white canes or guide dogs for assistance take extra care and precautions to navigate roads safely. Every trip out of the house is calculated, incorporating research on traffic patterns, navigation apps and bright clothes.

Despite their preparation, they rely on drivers seeing them, understanding what a white cane means, and following the law.

MaryLee Turner, Portland resident and Pedestrian Safety Action Coalition chair, said that she believes white canes should inform people, “Not only am I blind, but I am in control and know what I am doing.” Blind pedestrians face safety challenges when crossing at intersections, walking past drivers who are backing up, and failing to hear a silent or quiet car.

She and other blind pedestrians said they wish that White Cane Safety Day was honored every day, everywhere. They believe that raising drivers’ awareness of vulnerable pedestrians will increase safety for everyone.

“Safety is an everyday need. It’s an everyday issue. We want people to know that there is actually a law that protects people who are low vision or blind when we are crossing the streets,” said Darian Fleming, a Portland resident and PSAC member.

The law Fleming referenced is Oregon crosswalk law (ORS 811.035), which states: “A driver approaching a pedestrian who is blind or blind and deaf, who is carrying a white cane or accompanied by a dog guide, and who is crossing or about to cross a roadway, shall stop and remain stopped until the pedestrian has crossed the roadway.”

PSAC promotes White Cane Safety Day annually among other events intended to organize blind and low vision people to help them connect and learn from each other. The day, observed on October 15, was established by Congress in 1964. It’s intended to raise awareness of what white canes mean and encourage safer travel and transit. Due to the coronavirus, PSAC has chosen not to host an in-person event this year, but the day will be honored by a proclamation from the Portland mayor.

It’s estimated that over 100,000 Oregonians live with a visual disability and that the most common type of deadly crash involves pedestrians. ODOT encourages drivers to learn more about pedestrian safety and look out for white canes and guide dogs.

Learn more about White Cane Safety Day: View the Governor’s proclamation.You can also view the stories of some of those who use white canes on our YouTube channel here and here and listen to a podcast featuring Oregonians who use white canes.