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White Cane Day 2014

WHITE CANE SAFETY DAY 
OCTOBER 15, 2014
 
As we celebrate White Cane Day on October 15th, the World Blind Union, representing some 285 million blind and partially sighted persons worldwide, welcomes new designs and technologies that will shape cities, as many of these, such as accessible GPS devices have made independent travel a reality for many blind and partially sighted persons. However, the technological and design changes that can improve mobility and independence for blind people also may impose barriers and even dangers, if not planned and designed in such a way that they are inclusive of our needs to share the same spaces with fellow citizens.
 
Today the ability to travel safely and independently is a critical issue in our society. We all want to get to our destinations in the safest and quickest way possible. This is no different for persons who are blind or partially sighted. In fact, access to affordable, accessible transportation is one of the major barriers faced by blind and partially sighted persons, affecting their ability to access education, employment and participate fully in the community.
 
The World Blind Union closely follows developments in transportation access and design. At a recent international transportation forum that they attended, the WBU team was very interested in the technological innovations discussed. It may come to a point when blind people can no longer rely solely on white canes to navigate streets safely in a society that is moving towards shared spaces where pedestrians, cyclists and motorists all move about in the same spaces. Technology is even moving to driverless cars and driving devices that integrate electronic queues into manipulating traffic signals. Will the technology wizards who design these new devices take the needs of those who cannot see visual signals into consideration when designing for movement through shared space?
 
It is critical that the World Blind Union and our members are involved in these processes so that the needs of blind and partially sighted persons are not forgotten. Indeed, we are presently dealing with governments on the silent/hybrid car issue. Silent or quiet cars run on electric or battery power and emit little or no sound when stopped at intersections or while driving at lower speeds. These cars pose a serious safety hazard to blind and partially sighted persons who rely on vehicular sound to make decisions about when it is safe to cross roads. 
If the needs of blind and partially sighted persons had been considered when first designing these cars, then the WBU would not have to advocate for their redesign now that they are already on the market and posing real traffic hazards to blind travelers.
 
The development of accessible GPS apps for smartphones has provided a huge boost for independent travel for blind persons. However, we will need to know what apps for GPS navigation are reliable, accessible and affordable. Before these apps are released to the market, blind and partially sighted people will need to test them and provide feedback to the designers and engineers to ensure that assumptions are not made in terms of usability for blind people.
 
The white cane, acknowledged as a symbol representing blindness and mobility, is still the most used orientation aid around the world. Even the simple white cane is undergoing changes as blind pedestrians can now add technology that uses vibrations to let the person know how close they are to an object. These canes will not be the reality for the majority of blind people however; as 90% of all blind live in developing nations, and access to such technology is a long way off. Indeed, many blind people in these nations cannot afford a basic white cane to navigate their environment.
 
As countries and cities in all parts of the world build infrastructure, and urban areas expand, blind people will need to have input to make sure the design is inclusive from the outset, and that accessibility is not an afterthought.
 
While universal design features are clearly called for in the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD), attention must be given at every stage of conception and design of new products and features to ensure that the principles of universal and inclusive design are maintained. 
 
The World Blind Union calls upon governments, regulators, designers and manufacturers to establish and implement standards that will ensure universal access for all persons with disabilities. We further call upon technical engineers to consult with the WBU, or our members and partners, in order to discuss the implications of proposed design change so that accessibility issues that may be identified in the test phase, can be dealt with before mass manufacturing of new devices.
 
We encourage our members and other organizations that serve disabled people to attend local transportation forums and city planning meetings to ensure your accessibility needs are addressed as part of your country’s transportation design and services. Call your ministry of transportation to find out when these meetings take place.
 
The World Blind Union (WBU) is the global organization representing the estimated 285 million people worldwide who are blind or partially sighted.  Members consist of organizations run by blind people advocating on their own behalf, and organizations that serve the blind, in over 190 countries, as well as international organizations working in the field of vision impairment.


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