By Kevin Damask, staff writer with the Wisconsin Council of the Blind & Visually Impaired
For more than 50 years, October 15 has served as a day to honor the importance of the white cane for millions of Americans who are blind or visually impaired.
White Cane Safety Day recognizes the freedom, security and independence that this tool provides people who have vision loss. On this day, governors in states across the country sign proclamations that recognize the White Cane Law.
Constance Miller, an Antigo, Wisconsin resident and retired teacher, has used a white cane regularly since 1990. She has no vision in her right eye. Her vision was damaged as an infant after she received too much oxygen in an incubator. Through the years, Miller’s vision deteriorated, and she could only read print when it was very close to her face.
“I pretty much operated through life as a sighted person for many years,” Miller said. “Finally, in the early 90s, I got tired of working so hard to see, so I went to the Visually Impaired Program (VIP) in Wausau to see what they offered.”
Through VIP, Miller learned how to use a white cane. She also met Sharon Waldriff, who has been blind since her early teens. With Waldriff’s assistance, Miller overcame misconceptions about having a visual impairment, and she learned to feel comfortable using a white cane.
“I still use a great deal of my residual vision for support. I’m glad I have those skills because I couldn’t go without them,” Miller said. “I wish I had been more faithful about using the white cane earlier in my life.”
After training and encouragement, Miller went from resisting the white cane to becoming “quite a confident cane user.” In August, she attended the Wisconsin Council of the Blind & Visually Impaired’s Central Wisconsin Low Vision Fair in Wausau. She reconnected with Joan Wagner, her mobility teacher from the early 90s, and received valuable information from the American Council of the Blind.
In recent years, Miller has given presentations about blindness awareness at schools and churches in north-central Wisconsin.
“The white cane gives us a level of independence and security,” Miller explained. “None of us are totally independent. We’re interdependent. If I’m with someone, I stick with them when I’m in a crowd. With my white cane, I don’t have to rely on a sighted guide if I don’t want to.”
These days, Miller’s motto is “Have cane, will travel.” Since losing her sight, Miller’s attitude toward blindness has changed, and she has learned to embrace her visual impairment.
“Blindness is not as much of a disability as people’s attitudes toward it,” she said. “That could be my own attitude or a sighted person’s attitude toward what it means to be blind.”