The 2019 White Cane Safety Day is marked today, 15th October worldwide. 

By Japhet Kirimi & Alakie Ginn

Hundreds of visually impaired Kenyans will celebrate White Cane Safety Day in a bid to support and promote better awareness of the needs and challenges faced by blind people in the country. which will follow the celebration of the World Sight Day on the 11th of October.

The White Cane, also known as Guide Cane, is used by visually-impaired persons (VIPs) to move around without necessarily being supported by anybody, especially when they are in familiar environment. “One of the biggest misconceptions about people who are visually impaired (and people with disabilities in general) is that they are totally dependent on others or incapable of taking care of themselves,” said Crystal Asige, a proponent of the rights of VIPs in Kenya. She adds that a quality White Cane can offer required guidance with minimal support.

The white cane is recognized as a symbol of independence, safety, courage, a sign of autonomy and respect for the blind and partially sighted persons, which is in line with Article 3 of the principles enshrined in the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD). It is also in line with the obligations stipulated under Article 9 of the CRPD on accessibility, Article 20 on mobility and sustainable development goal number 11 on accessible cities and human settlements.

Crystal Asige has come to terms with the fact that her condition has ruled her out of many professions -and Opportunities not because of her abilities, but because of societal barriers in infrastructure and mindset. The singer/songwriter and speaker has fully embraced her White Cane and has even named it Faith. This is because Crystal encourages everyone to ‘walk by faith and not by sight’ like she now does.

She has only been using her cane for 3 years after being diagnosed with glaucoma, meaning that her vision is has had a gradual decline, leaving her with no depth perception, night vision or facial recognition, as well as several blind spots.

“Faith really helps me, but the biggest challenge here in Kenya is there affordability and accessibility. Even when blind and partially sighted persons like myself have white canes, we continue to face significant barriers such as lack of safe and accessible urban spaces, as well as lack of tactile markers that facilitate the use of a white cane,” she adds.

Crystal Asige’s work as a Programme Lead with the Open Institute on the Ability Programme is appealing to the Kenyan government to meet its obligations of the CRPD and the commitments enshrined in the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and article 54 of the Kenyan constitution.

“It is critical that the government allocates part of the budget and national action plans to include provision of white canes as well as the provision of mobility trainings for blind and partially sighted persons,” she continued.

“The government should also provide adequate resources to facilitate the provision of white canes to blind people at the national level free of charge in the spirit of leave no one behind in order to promote inclusive development,” she added.

There is need for quality Braille textbooks which would greatly promote education and training of the visually impaired, as well as opening opportunities for them to be involved in economic projects that could further enrich their lives.

Crystal Asige’s longterm mission, and on this White Cane Safety Day is to educate Kenyans about blindness, engage the government in promoting training and access to the white cane for the visually impaired, celebrate the abilities and successes achieved by blind people in a world of the sighted as one of the greatest challenges faced by this group are access to information and economic empowerment.

White Cane Safety Day is a national observance, celebrated each year since 1964. The day is set aside to celebrate the achievements of people who are blind or visually impaired and their important symbol of independence.