Hawaii's blind community raise awareness with White Cane Safety Day walks
Dozens of iconic white canes took over the sidewalks near the State Capitol today, as more than 150 visually impaired residents of all ages and advocates for Oahu's blind community celebrated national White Cane Safety Day.
Students from across Oahu took part in the walk, an unusual sight for a community that is oftentimes invisible.
"Walking around with our canes, it kinda shows people that can see to be aware of us blind people," said Sairin Skinny, 16, a student at McKinley High School.
The walk was organized by Ho'opono Services for the Blind, part of Hawaii's Department of Human Services, which offers free vocational training to the visually impaired so they can work and build confidence. The agency works to empower residents to advocate for themselves.
"Although we're blind, that shouldn't be a factor on our independence and us living our lives," said Ezra White, 17, a student at Roosevelt High School.
Originally from the Big Island, Shellford Cantan received training through Ho'opono in 2006 after he lost his eyesight from a genetic disorder. He says the white cane changed his life.
"A moment a cane was put in my hand and I started to cross streets and I started to catch the city bus here on Oahu not on the Big Island on Oahu with millions of people, I started to feel good about myself," Cantan said. "I started to realize then that I wasn't going to be a burden on my family, my friends and my loved ones anymore. That gave me great joy and it gave me hope for the future for myself and everybody else."
Now Cantan works for Ho'opono as a cane travel instructor, teaching others like him to see things differently, using a simple tool to navigate the world, despite the darkness.
Cantan says he still experiences discrimination for his disability, but has a better attitude about it.
Positive attitudes, advocates say, they want to promote. According to Ho'opono, the leading cause of blindness is diabetes and when a person loses their sight, they shouldn't be seen as helpless.
"We get them ready, ready for that job that they're looking for but it's just a matter of employers to say even though they're blind, we can give them a chance," said Gavan Abe, community services coordinator for Ho'opono. "Statistics show blind people, people with visual disabilities, they're hungry, they want that job, and when they get it, they stay with it."
The hard part, he added, is getting employers to open their eyes to the possibilities.
Similar awareness walks took place in Maui and Kauai. Residents on the Big Island can participate in the Hilo White Cane Walk on October 25 at KTA Keawe at 10:30 a.m.