Feeling their wayThere is much the state and citizens need to do to assist the safe mobility of blind and visually impaired persons
It is difficult to even imagine walking in darkness. But if you are born without the ability to see, that is the state you exist in. If you lose your sight later in life due to an accident or disease, you have to adapt. You need to believe that you can lead a dignified life without your eyesight.
I myself am blind and am working for the government.
Every year, October 15 is marked as ‘International White Cane Day’. There is a short story in connection with that day. During the Second World War, thousands of people were killed and thousands more wounded. Many lost their eyesight too. So doctors were forced to take this matter seriously and tried to think about the rehabilitation of those blind soldiers. At the same time, a doctor named Richard E. Hoover invented a white cane to assist the mobility of those blind patients. Hoover’s efforts have since helped blind and visually impaired (BVI) persons enjoy safe mobility.
A white cane is a long stick that is divided into three parts. The grip is made of soft rubber and is available in green or black. The tip is the bottom part of the cane, coloured in red. It is made of a nylon tube that touches the ground with a slight vibration. It helps identify if the ground is composed of mud, stone, grass or something else. The body of the cane is made of aluminum and is white in colour, hence its name. These white canes are available in different shapes and sizes. They can be folded and carried in a bag. Additionally, the white colour of the cane helps others see BVI persons from a distance.
This white cane ensures the safe mobility of BVI persons and helps them reach their destination safely. If used correctly, it can be a better friend than a person who can see. But a cane is not enough. Accessible environments for the safe mobility of BVI persons need to be created. For example, countries like Japan, Malaysia and South Korea have built different types of block roads to facilitate the movement of BVI persons. When you reach the entrance of the railway or any building’s door, these blocks are arranged in different sizes and shapes that help you separate what is in front of you.
But there is one more serious problem for BVI persons in Nepal. These white canes are not produced in our country, so we have to import them from neighbouring countries, either India or China. That’s why, white cane are expensive here. BVI persons who are not employed or do not have enough money are not able to purchase this white cane easily.
Doing your part
It would not be an exaggeration to say that neither the government nor the public is aware about this white cane. Though Nepal has already ratified the United Nation’s Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD), there is still great negligence for the safe mobility of visually challenged peoples. The state must arrange for traffic lights that make sounds so that it is easier for BVI persons to cross the road. Zebra crossings should also be painted in thick colour or raised perforations so that BVI people can sense where to cross the road.
But there are some small things that even regular people can do to help BVI persons move about easier. For example, do not put unnecessary things on the sidewalk, such as motorbikes, cycles, or street vendors. Holes in footpaths and roads must also be demarcated with physical markers. If you see a blind person crossing the road, give them your shoulder or hands to help them. Never try to hold their white cane in the name of support. Just as importantly, do not occupy seats in public transportation that have been reserved for people with disabilities. Everyone needs to realise that you have a responsibility as a citizen of the country to help the marginalised and disabled lead a safe and comfortable life.
Adhikari is a section officer at the Department of Women and Children (email@example.com)