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HomeminewsInternational White Cane Day

International White Cane Day

Media celebrities and other high profile people will be asked to step into the shoes of a person with vision impairment when they receive expert training then try to walk in a straight line while blindfolded and using a cane on International White Cane Day, Saturday 15 October.

Many people associate guide dogs with blindness, but few realise it is the white cane that is the most widely used mobility aid among those with impaired vision. With vision loss expected to rise 40 per cent by 20201, Guide Dogs NSW/ACT says its time to increase awareness of this invaluable aid.

According to Guide Dogs NSW/ACT, many people associate guide dogs with blindness, but few realise it is the white cane that is the most widely used mobility aid among those with impaired vision.

90 years have passed since the white cane was invented by an Englishman who lost his sight in an accident and painted his black cane white to make it more visible to others. While it is now the internationally recognised symbol for vision impairment, the long cane and training in how to use it has evolved so that it is much more than just an identification tool.

Among its achievements, the Global Consortium has reported that in Cambodia 38,000 eye examinations were carried out and over 7,600 sight-restoring surgeries took place. In the Solomon Islands, nearly 1,000 people received glasses to improve their vision, while in Papua New Guinea vision centres have been established to enable eye tests, provision of spectacles and referral to other health services…

With vision loss expected to rise *40 per cent by 2020, Guide Dogs NSW/ACT is asking Sydneysiders on International White Cane Day to put themselves in the shoes of a person with vision impairment and consider how they would get around.

“While many would be shocked by the impact vision loss would have on every aspect of their life, we suspect Sydneysiders would be surprised to learn that when used correctly, the humble cane can restore a great deal of mobility and independence,’’ said Dr Graeme White, CEO of Guide Dogs.

“The long cane plays a critical role in providing safe, agile foot travel as it detects objects and changing surfaces.

“There are now different kinds of canes to suit each person’s travel needs and over the past ten years we’ve seen increased demand for coloured canes, with requests for black to suit evening wear, football colours, candy colours for children and even gold.

“People with impaired vision lead full, active lives thanks to the development and evolution of the cane, hence the importance of International White Cane Day.”

Cane Gives Confidence to Simone Cottom

In the case of Sydney’s Simone Cottom, who lost her sight at 39 years old due to meningitis and a stroke, being taught how to use a cane not only gave her back her life, but also the self- confidence to try out for the Paralympics.

“When I lost my sight, needless to say my world was shattered. But thanks to instructors from Guide Dogs teaching me how to use a cane to get around on my own, I’ve regained the confidence to ski again and am in the process of trying out for the Paralympics. My experience has taught me anything is possible,” said Simone.

A new Roy Morgan survey commissioned by the organisation found that 73 per cent of respondents were unaware that Guide Dogs NSW/ACT provides canes and expert training in how to use them for safe, graceful, dignified and efficient travel – all provided free of charge.

The organisation is leading the trend toward using electronic aids to complement how a cane can provide independent mobility, offering a suite of talking GPS phone software and handheld Miniguides that act like the reverse warning in a car.

A Commitment to Avoidable Blindness

Since 2008, the Australian Government has committed more than AUD$66 million to an Avoidable Blindness Initiative to help improve eye health in the Asia Pacific.

Under the Avoidable Blindness Initiative, Vision 2020 Australia’s Global Consortium has brought together nine Australian organisations that are helping eliminate blindness and vision impairment through surgeries and other treatments, training for health professionals, and the development of eye-care resources and infrastructure.

Global Consortium Achievement

Among its achievements, the Global Consortium has reported that in Cambodia 38,000 eye examinations were carried out and over 7,600 sight-restoring surgeries took place. In the Solomon Islands, nearly 1,000 people received glasses to improve their vision, while in Papua New Guinea vision centres have been established to enable eye tests, provision of spectacles and referral to other health services. In Vietnam, nearly 3,200 eye health personnel received training across a range of areas. Prior to the Consortium’s commencement, primary eye care services existed in only 317 out of 668 districts, and ophthalmologists covered only one third of the country.

The Focus Continues

On the eve of World Sight Day, Parliament turned its attention to Australia’s efforts to eliminate avoidable blindness in the Asia Pacific.

Current and former parliamentarians spoke about the important role of blindness prevention in Australia’s efforts to tackle poverty in developing countries, and outlined the Government and Opposition’s commitment to this vital area.

A panel session also took place, with Global Consortium Secretariat Manager Catherine Yates, Adelaide Ophthalmologist Dr Peter Cooper and Optometrist Tim Fricke discussing the Global Consortium’s achievements to date and the remaining challenges that will enable some of the world’s most vulnerable people to fulfil their right to sight.

Vision 2020 Australia screened a short video, highlighting some of the work being undertaken by the Global Consortium in the Asia Pacific region, while the Australian Council for International Development launched a brochure debunking the myths around Australia’s aid program.

Reference
*Access Economics report commissioned by Vision2020 Clear Focus: The Economic Impact of Vision Loss in Australia in 2009. Published in June 2010

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