by Barbara Pierce
For a decade or so now NFB chapters have been planning Meet the Blind Month activities in October to educate our communities about the capabilities of blind people and our presence in our neighborhoods. Chapter members speak to civic groups and school classes; they volunteer at community activities; chapters conduct fundraisers and march in parades, and members pass out thousands of pieces of NFB literature. These efforts call attention to the National Federation of the Blind and blind citizens as contributing members of the community. We also hope that our visibility touches the hearts and offers hope to those losing vision and grieving their loss of independence. All of this activity is merely an expansion of efforts reaching back to 1964 when President Lyndon Johnson proclaimed October 15 each year as White Cane Safety Day.
It is easy to forget the history of White Cane Safety Day and the importance of the Model White Cane Law. For this reason we are reprinting an article that President Maurer wrote in 1978 and the text of the Model White Cane Law as Dr. tenBroek wrote it. A variant of this legislation is now law in every one of our fifty states. Here is a slightly edited version of President Maurer’s article:
by Marc Maurer
In February of 1978 a young blind woman said, “I encounter people all of the time who bless me, extol my independence, call me brave and courageous, and thoroughly miss the boat as to what the real significance of the white cane is.”
The National Federation of the Blind in convention assembled on the 6th day of July, 1963, called upon the governors of the fifty states to proclaim October 15 of each year as White Cane Safety Day in each of our fifty states. On October 6, 1964, a joint resolution of the Congress, HR 753, was signed into law authorizing the President of the United States to proclaim October 15 of each year as “White Cane Safety Day.” This resolution said: “Resolved by the Senate and House of Representatives, that the President is hereby authorized to issue annually a proclamation designating October 15 as White Cane Safety Day and calling upon the people of the United States to observe such a day with appropriate ceremonies and activities.”
Within hours of the passage of the congressional joint resolution authorizing the president to proclaim October 15 as White Cane Safety Day, then President Lyndon B. Johnson recognized the importance of the white cane as a staff of independence for blind people. In the first Presidential White Cane Proclamation, President Johnson commended the blind for the growing spirit of independence and the increased determination to be self-reliant that the organized blind had shown. The presidential proclamation said:
The white cane in our society has become one of the symbols of a blind person’s ability to come and go on his own. Its use has promoted courtesy and special consideration to the blind on our streets and highways. To make our people more fully aware of the meaning of the white cane and of the need for motorists to exercise special care for the blind persons who carry it, Congress, by a joint resolution approved as of October 6, 1964, has authorized the President to proclaim October 15 of each year as White Cane Safety Day.
Now, therefore, I, Lyndon B. Johnson, President of the United States of America, do hereby proclaim October 15, 1964, as White Cane Safety Day.
With those stirring words President Johnson issued the first White Cane Proclamation, which was the culmination of a long and serious effort on the part of the National Federation of the Blind to gain recognition for the growing independence and self-sufficiency of blind people in America and also to gain recognition of the white cane as the symbol of that independence and that self-reliance.
The first of the state laws regarding the right of blind people to travel independently with the white cane was passed in 1930. In 1966 Dr. Jacobus tenBroek, the founder of the National Federation of the Blind, drafted the model White Cane Law. This model act—which has become known as the Civil Rights Bill for the Blind, the Disabled, and the Otherwise Physically Handicapped—contains a provision designating October 15 as White Cane Safety Day. Today a variant of the White Cane Law is on the statute books of every state in the nation.
From 1963 (and even before) when the National Federation of the Blind sought to have White Cane Safety Day proclaimed as a recognition of the rights of blind persons, to 1978 when a blind pedestrian met with misunderstanding regarding the true meaning of the white cane, is but a short time in the life of a movement. In 1963 a comparatively small number of blind people had achieved sufficient independence to travel alone on the busy highways of our nation. In 1978 that number has not simply increased but multiplied a hundredfold. The process began in the beginning of the organized blind movement and continues today. There was a time when it was unusual to see a blind person on the street, to find a blind person working in an office, or to see a blind person operating machinery in a factory. This is still all too uncommon. But it happens more often, and the symbol of this independence is the white cane. The blind are able to go, to move, to be, and to compete with all others in society. The means by which this is done is that simple tool, the white cane. With the growing use of the white cane is an added element—the wish and the will to be free—the unquenchable spirit and the inextinguishable determination to be independent. With these our lives are changed, and the prospects for blind people become bright. That is what White Cane Safety Day is all about. That is what we do in the National Federation of the Blind.
Here is the text of the model White Cane Law as Dr. tenBroek wrote it in 1966:
1: It is the policy of this State to encourage and enable the blind, the visually handicapped, and the otherwise physically disabled to participate fully in the social and economic life of the State and to engage in remunerative employment.
2 (a): The blind, the visually handicapped, and the otherwise physically disabled have the same right as the able-bodied to the full and free use of the streets, highways, sidewalks, walkways, public buildings, public facilities, and other public places;
2 (b): The blind, the visually handicapped, and the otherwise physically disabled are entitled to full and equal accommodations, advantages, facilities, and privileges of all common carriers, airplanes, motor vehicles, railroad trains, motor buses, street cars, boats or any other public conveyances or modes of transportation, hotels, lodging places, places of public accommodation, amusement or resort, and other places to which the general public is invited, subject only to the conditions and limitations established by law and applicable alike to all persons;
2 (c): Every, totally, or partially blind person shall have the right to be accompanied by a guide dog, especially trained for the purpose, in any of the places listed in section 2 (b) without being required to pay an extra charge for the guide dog; provided that he shall be liable for any damage done to the premises or facilities by such dog.
3: The driver of a vehicle approaching a totally or partially blind pedestrian who is carrying a cane predominantly white or metallic in color (with or without a red tip) or using a guide dog shall take all necessary precautions to avoid injury to such blind pedestrian, and any driver who fails to take such precautions shall be liable in damages for any injury caused such pedestrian; provided that a totally or partially blind pedestrian not carrying such a cane or using a guide dog in any of the places, accommodations or conveyances listed in section 2 shall have all of the rights and privileges conferred by law upon other persons, and the failure of a totally, or partially blind pedestrian to carry such a cane or to use a guide dog in any such places, accommodations or conveyances shall not be held to constitute nor be evidence of contributory negligence.
4: Any person or persons, firm or corporation, or the agent of any person or persons, firm or corporation who denies or interferes with admittance to or enjoyment of the public facilities enumerated in section 2 or otherwise interferes with the rights of a totally or partially blind or otherwise disabled person under section 2 shall be guilty of a misdemeanor.
5: Each year, the Governor shall take suitable public notice of October 15 as White Cane Safety Day. He shall issue a proclamation in which:
(a) he comments upon the significance of the white cane;
(b) he calls upon the citizens of the State to observe the provisions of the White Cane Law and to take precautions necessary to the safety of the disabled;
(c) he reminds the citizens of the State of the policies with respect to the disabled herein declared and urges the citizens to cooperate in giving effect to them;
(d) he emphasizes the need of the citizens to be aware of the presence of disabled persons in the community and to keep safe and functional for the disabled the streets, highways, sidewalks, walkways, public buildings, public facilities, other public places, places of public accommodation, amusement and resort, and other places to which the public is invited, and to offer assistance to disabled persons upon appropriate occasions.
6: It is the policy of this State that the blind, the visually handicapped, and the otherwise physically disabled shall be employed in the State Service, the service of the political subdivisions of the State, in the public schools, and in all other employment supported in whole or in part by public funds on the same terms and conditions as the able-bodied, unless it is shown that the particular disability prevents the performance of the work involved.
In some States blind and otherwise disabled persons have been having difficulty renting, leasing, or buying suitable housing. Another section (Section 7) is herewith set forth for those States which have no protection for disabled people in the housing area.
7 (a): Blind persons, visually handicapped persons, and other physically disabled persons shall be entitled to full and equal access, as other members of the general public, to all housing accommodations offered for rent, lease, or compensation in this State, subject to the conditions and limitations established by law and applicable alike to all persons.
7 (b): “Housing accommodations” means any real property, or portion thereof, which is used or occupied or is intended, arranged, or designed to be used or occupied, as the home, residence, or sleeping place of one or more human beings, but shall not include any accommodations included within sub-section (a) or any single family residence the occupants of which rent, lease, or furnish for compensation not more than one room therein.
7 (c): Nothing in this section shall require any person renting, leasing, or providing for compensation real property to modify his property in any way or provide a higher degree of care for a blind person, visually handicapped person, or other physically disabled person than for a person who is not physically disabled.
7 (d): Every totally or partially blind person who has a guide dog, or who obtains a guide dog, shall be entitled to full and equal access to all housing accommodations provided for in this section, and he shall not be required to pay extra compensation for such guide dog but shall be liable for any damage done to the premises by such a guide dog.