There needs to be more awareness among motorists of blind pedestrians and their use of the distinguishing white cane that they use to help them move around, Padmashri Award winner Bertha G. Dkhar said on the eve of White Cane Safety Day, which falls on October 15 every year.
Dkhar, the Senior Programme Coordinator at Bethany Society and a white cane user herself, said that the transport authorities and driving institutions need to create awareness on the white cane in the driver instruction programmes for new driver’s licence holders.
“I wish that the District Transport Office that issues licences and the driving schools put in their curriculum the significance of the white cane so that people know what it is and awareness is created among the potential drivers,” she said, adding that five years ago she came close to serious injury when crossing the road because passing drivers did not understand the significance of the white cane she was holding.
It was a different situation 20 years ago when Dkhar was able to walk from her home in Jaiaw to Bethany Society’s office in Laitumkhrah.
“The traffic then was very disciplined and the streets were not overcrowded. I can no longer do this at present because of the overcrowded streets and extreme traffic jams, with people occupying or parking their two-wheelers along the pavement and not observing traffic rules religiously,” she said, adding that drivers often hurl abuse at white cane users if they, even unintentionally, get in the way of vehicles.
When asked about street vendors occupying pavements, Bethany Society Executive Director Carmo Noronha said that it is up to the government, as service and infrastructure providers, to decide on spaces for everyone.
“It is the government that should be responsible to decide on spaces for traffic, for people in wheelchairs and the visually impaired,” Noronha said. “If you are saying that a person in a wheelchair needs to get a seat on the bus, then the government first needs to think how the person in the wheelchair will get onto the bus in the first place.”
He expanded this to access to buildings, whether public or private and said that there is no excuse for new government offices to be inaccessible for wheelchair users.
One who has embraced the freedom offered by use of the white cane is Bertina Lyngdoh, a former student of Bethany Society who has completed her master’s degree in English and has been teaching for almost four years now.
“I am independent and can freely move in my environment and outside to new places because of the white cane,” Lyngdoh said, adding that the tool symbolizes freedom, confidence and independence with the practical benefits of helping her maintain director, find landmarks and crossing roads.