Saturday, October 16, 2010

Elementary school students in Wisconsin help celebrate White Cane Safety Day

From The Gazette:

JANESVILLE, Wis. — If you see someone blind

Stop 10 feet away or find

That you are driving like a fool!

—from lyrics composed by WSVH students several years ago

The blind led the sighted Oct. 14 at the Wisconsin School for the Visually Handicapped.

The state's school for the blind invited students from nearby Van Buren Elementary School to learn what it's like to be blind and especially learn about those white canes they carry.

Oct. 15 is National White Cane Safety Day.

Van Buren and WSVH kids go to school in the same neighborhood, noted Sue Kokko, WSVH dean of students, so it's likely the sighted kids will be in the car when their parents see someone with a white cane trying to cross a street.

"Now you'll know about the white cane law, so you can tell your parents," she said.

The program lasted more than an hour and included these moments:

Most fun: The auditorium was divided into three groups. Each was given a word, and they took turns shouting at the tops of their lungs: "White! Cane! Day!" The kids broke the indoor-voices rule, with gusto.

Technology update: Jeremiah Beasley, WSVH's information technology expert, said that for all the high-tech stuff he deals with, his favorite piece of technology is his cane.

"It allows me to go wherever I want to go," including planes, trains and buses around the country.

Just like you: Blind people travel all over the world. They ski, hike, swim and climb mountains, said WSVH student Mark Doering.

Early education: The kids learned that visually impaired children as young as 18 months are given canes, so they learn early how to "see" the world through the sensations passed from the cane's tip to their hands.

"They're learning at that age that it's OK to be blind and OK to have a cane," said David Hyde (pictured) of the outreach department at the Wisconsin Center for the Blind and Visually Impaired—of which WSVH is a part.

"My cane gives me information on where I'm going," said student Charles Burke. "It's really cool to have a cane."

Eye opener: Blind people travel the world, Hyde said. He told of visiting Poland to work with blind people.

Teacher Kim Batten caned her way to Australia.

"They use canes over there as well," she said.

Pointers: Hyde said not to fear the cane: "If it touches you, it's not going to hurt."

Student Chris Mathews said young children sometimes grab the cane and shake it.

"They think it's a lifesaver or a pool stick, or something weird like that, and it's not. It's something to help guide someone who can't see well. …

"If you see someone with a cane, you can offer to help, but don't grab the cane … because that will scare us," Chris said.

It's OK to ask blind people if they need help, Hyde said, but don't do it when they're concentrating on traffic noises to cross a street.

Blind drivers: "How do you drive?" one Van Buren student asked.

Blind and visually impaired people don't drive, Chris said. They rely on public transportation.

However, Beasley said, people are working on technology to change that. Beasley tells his 6-year-old, who is blind, that sometime in his lifetime, he'll be able to drive a car.

Practicality: What if your cane breaks? a student asked.

Then you need a new one. The Wisconsin Council for the Blind will supply a new cane to a blind person each year, Chris said.

"One easy fix: duct tape. It'll fix all your problems," Mark said.

Lyrical moment: Music teacher Karen Heesen taught everyone a song for which her students had written the lyrics several years ago to the tune "Five Foot Two, Eyes of Blue." It included this admonition:

Please act smart, knowing that

If cars hit you, you'll go splat

Remember, always use your cane!

Bottom line: "Blind people are just like you, it's just that they don't see well, Mark said.

Reaction: "They're not much different from us. We do the same things," said Van Buren third-grader Chris Hancock. He added: "But I didn't know that blind people could play the piano."