White Cane Safety Day Celebration raises awareness, unites community
Author: Jillian Daley
Posted: October 16, 2019
Only about 10 percent of traffic includes pedestrians, yet one-third of traffic-related deaths are pedestrians, said Dylan Rivera, Portland Bureau of Transportation public information officer, to a gathering outside of Portland State University Smith Memorial Student Union on Tuesday.

Rivera then told the crowd of about 100, assembled for the White Cane Safety Day Celebration, that there are more than 14,000 blind people in Portland, many of whom are outside walking every day using a guide dog or white cane.

The annual happening, which has sister events nationwide, was established 55 years ago to raise awareness about safety. It also affords the opportunity to teach the public that Oregon law requires drivers to stop and wait for anyone with a white cane or guide dog who is crossing or about to cross a road.

After Rivera’s presentation, Portland City Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty read a proclamation from Mayor Ted Wheeler declaring it White Cane Safety Day. Hardesty also told the crowd that she supports their awareness-raising efforts, especially when it comes to traffic laws.

“We all benefit when we have laws that protect people who are blind or visually impaired, right?” Hardesty said. The crowd responded with affirmative cheers, and when she had finished reading Wheeler’s proclamation, the group burst into a rendition of “Happy Birthday” because the celebration happened to coincide with Hardesty’s name day.

The event had started shortly before Hardesty and Rivera’s presentations, with attendees noshing on doughnuts and sipping coffee while hovering by two tables piled high with resource materials from the American Council of the Blind (ACB), Oregon Commission for the Blind (OCB), National Federation of the Blind (NFB), and Vision Zero a safety program from the Portland Bureau of Transportation.

Pedestrian Safety Action Coalition (PSAC) organized the event with those partners and the PSU College of Education (COE), which had experts and students on-hand to help. All of the leaders gathered to offer support to attendees and each other.

Orion Lumiere, OCB administrative specialist, told the COE that this day is a critical one for blind people, recalling a man who was struck and killed while in a crosswalk using a white cane.

“We were so excited when the governor declared this White Cane Safety Day,” said Lumiere, mentioning another proclamation that made the day official.

The day gives a voice to all pedestrians, said Ashley Smith, who is in the Orientation and Mobility master’s program in the PSU COE and is an OCB rehabilitation instructor. White Cane Safety Day’s benefits are “twofold, building community and educating the public on the laws we have in Oregon,” Smith said.

Amy Parker, an assistant professor at PSU, noted that this event represented “leadership by the community and for the community.”

“Their hard work and their efforts have paved the way for thousands of people to live safer lives,” said Parker, the coordinator of the Orientation and Mobility Program in the Special Education Department of the COE.

One of the high points of the event was the wealth of information that community members had to share. One woman asked an organizer how to use a walker and a white a cane at the same time.

“You can paint the front of the walker white and put red down at the bottom by the wheels,” suggested Mary Lee Turner, chair of PSAC.

Tyanne Wilmath, treasurer of the ACB Portland Metro Chapter, had some ideas for how people should react to her guide dog, a black and golden Labrador cross named Nora: “People tend to ask the dog’s name before my name. Talk to the handler instead of the dog.”

Bruce Boyd, a volunteer with Vision Zero, passed out reflectors outfitted with a battery-powered light: “The sooner drivers see you, the less likely they are to hit you.” Boyd added that drivers should take it easy on the accelerator, “Slowing down saves lives.”

Cherranne Verduin, a Portland resident who is blind, said she was there in honor of those who had been killed or injured by drivers who failed to follow traffic laws: “I’m taking my sadness about the situation of people having to be hurt or killed trying to cross the street and my own fear to cross the street, and I’m putting it into action to be a part of the collective cause of educating drivers.”

After the resource materials were distributed and the attendees had finished sharing tips and experiences, they went on a walk together. Holding signs such as “State Law: Stop for the Blind” and “My Dog Is My Eyes and My Right of Way” they stepped into crosswalks to educate drivers and everyone else around them.

The last walker in the line was trumpet player Jim Jackson (secretary on the board of National Federation of the Blind of Oregon), who filled the air with old standards, such as “When The Saints Go Marching In.”


Top: Portland City Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty (right) reads a proclamation after a crowd of about 100 heard safety details from Dylan Rivera, Portland Bureau of Transportation public information officer at the White Cane Safety Day Celebration on Tuesday at PSU.

Middle: Pedestrian Safety Action Coalition Chair Mary Lee Turner leads a group of walkers.

Bottom: White Cane Safety Day attendee Jim Jackson performs on his trumpet as he walks.

To share stories on the College of Education, email Jillian Daley.