International White Cane Day – Watch Out, Cane About

Tuesday 15th October was International White Cane Day – a day to recognise and celebrate the importance of the white cane for people who are blind or vision impaired.

Although I have my beautiful Guide Dog I still use my long cane on a daily basis. I need it to take Wiley for recreational and tolieting walks, to get to yoga or whenever Wiley may not be fit for work.

Because my long white cane is still a very important mobility aid for me I was delighted to participate in Guide Dogs NSW/ACT International White Cane Day activities here in Canberra.

This year Guide Dogs NSW/ACT celebrated International White Cane Day by launching a new Road safety campaign called ‘Watch Out, Cane About’.

There are some very worrying statistics out of a survey of blind and vision impaired pedestrians that indicated 58% had expereinced a near miss crossing a road in the last five years (I am part of that 58%.) and 1 in 15 had actually been struck by a vehicle.

For more information on the Watch Out Road Safety Campaign including links to a couple of great videos please click here.

To promote the campaign here in Canberra Guide Dogs NSW/ACT arranged a media event demonstrating the do’s and don’ts for motorists at road crossings. I was delighted to be asked to attend the event and give a short speech as well as participate in the demonstration.

As it was White Cane Day I decided to give Wiley the morning off and attend only using my cane.

Before I got to the event I had to do a quick radio interview in the ABC studio. This was my second in studio interview and I have to say it was just as nerve wracking as the first one. The host Genevieve Jacobs was lovely and made me feel very welcome and the ten minute interview simply flew by.

It was then a quick trip to the Lyneham shops where the demonstrations were being held.

In addition to the lovely ACT Guide Dogs staff (Karyn, Chace, Judy and Cody), Guide Dogs CEO Dr Graeme White and Marketing and Communications Manager Charles Ulm also attended.

We were very fortunate to get lots of support for the campaign. Some of the official guest included:

  • Senator the Hon Mitch Fifield, Federal Minister for Ageing and Disabilities
  • Yvette Berry MLA, (on behalf of ACT Disability Minister Joy Burch),
  • Andrew Wall MLA, Shadow Disability Minister
  • Nicole Lawder MLA, Disability advocate
  • Sergeant Mark Steel, Traffic Operations Officer in Charge – ACT police
  • Nicole Millwood, Media Liaison Officer – ACT Police
  • Alan Evans, Director NRMA

The proceedings started with a couple of speeches, followed by a demonstration of what drivers should and shouldn’t do at crossings. Then a couple of the guests tried crossing the road under blindfold. The event finished with a couple more speeches and media and photo opportunities.

We were lucky to get some good media coverage including a segment on the WIN local news and an article in the Canberra Times. Anything that helps to spread the word about the campaign is incredibly valuable.

I had a great time at the event (and a delicious hot chocolate with all the guide Dog staff afterwards at Tilly’s) but I was very happy to get back home to Wiley. I felt very exposed being out and about without him. I kept putting my hand down to give him a pat but he wasn’t there.

Wiley was over the moon to see me, doing back flips and making funny little noises that I haven’t heard him make before. It was the longest time we had spent apart – a little over 3 hours and I think he missed me as much as I missed him. That makes my heart smile 🙂

2 thoughts on “International White Cane Day – Watch Out, Cane About

  1. Hi Jo. I had already seen the piece about the white cane & pedestrians on facebook but I was shocked by the statistics of so many having near misses or actual accidents with motor traffic. I read/saw somewhere recently (can’t remember where) that it isn’t the Guide Dog who makes the decision that it is safe to cross the road. I had wondered about that – how they were trained to know when it is safe to cross.
    When we are puppy raising we are taught to check for traffic as we come up to the road & if it is safe to cross right over – in other words, don’t make an issue of the road. I asked about this & my supervisor said that they will be taught how to cross the road in their intensive training period & they don’t want us muddying the waters, so to speak – risk teaching them the wrong thing. I guess it is easier to teach the dog something from scratch rather than having them have to relearn bad habits.
    I had also never thought about that you would still use your white cane – I was surprised to see that you still use it but it makes sense. Toileting for instance – our puppies are not allowed to toilet with their coat on as you would take Wiley’s harness off for him so you have to be able to get around to do that. Can I ask a question about toileting? We are taught to circle the dog (on lead) around and around us (we have even practised it blindfolded) in order that the blind person will know where the dog has done his business. (We use the command “Busy, Busy”) Is that what you do? Do you ever have trouble finding Wiley’s business?
    Another question was something my husband has mentioned. Were you a dog person before you got your first guide dog? My husband has really bonded with Guinness (guide dog puppy) and hopes that the person he goes to serve will enjoy him the same way that he does.
    Well, that’s it for today. Thank you for taking the time to communicate with me, it is really helpful. Have a great week!

    • Hi Sheena
      When it comes to crossing a road with a Guide Dog the handler is still the one responsible for deciding when it is safe to cross the road – using the same skills as if they were using a long cane.

      If I think it is safe I will give Wiley the forward command, he then steps off the kerb and I step off about one pace behind him. As part of their formal training Guide Dogs are taught to not obey the forward command if they can see it isn’t safe. So if Wiley doesn’t step off neither do I. How they actually train traffic skills I am not sure – it something certainly best left to the professionals.

      Sometimes I test Wiley’s skills and I will give the forward command when I can hear a car approaching, he has always done the right thing and not moved forward. He gets lots of praise and a food reward to reinforce a job well done.The other day at a road he refused to move which had me a little puzzled until I heard a bicycle whizz pass, he got a couple of treats on that occasion:)

      I wondered how the puppy raisers did such a great job of getting the dogs to stay in the area when they toileted. I use ‘quick quick’ as Wiley’s command. When he goes to the loo he will stop, I walk down the length of his lead until I know I am close to where he is doing his business. It is then reasonably easy to put a bag over my hand and feel around for something warm. Not pleasant but necessary!

      I have always been a dog person and have shared my life with lots of dogs of all different breeds and sizes. When I had my first Guide Dog Khan I also had two pet dogs – a border collie and a yorkshire terrier. I used to trial pet dogs in obedience when I still had some vision.

      In my experience Guide Dog handlers, even those that are new to dog ownership and perhaps not naturally doggy people adore their Guide Dog. The working relationship is so effective because there is a strong bond between dog and handler. As your life depends on the dog you have to really trust and respect your dog and they have to feel the same for you. As part of team training the Guide Dog instructor will make sure the handler and dog are bonding and working well together.

      I can only imagine the heartbreak of handing over a dog you have loved for so long. I hope knowing that the dog will be matched and partnered with someone who is a good fit to their personality and working style (so the dog will be happy and fulfilled) will help to ease the pain.

      All my friends with Guide dogs say that as fantastic as their dogs are as mobility aids – the companionship and love they share with the dog is what makes them so incredibly special to them.

      Wiley is an affectionate boy so he thrives in a home where he gets lots of attention, praise, cuddles and kisses – and he certainly gets lots of that with me:)

      Have a great week and give the beautiful Guinness a cuddle from me.

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