For the majority of vision-impaired people, a cane is their first port of call in adjusting to life without sight.
A prerequisite to being paired with a guide dog is experience using a cane – but whatever option a blind person may choose, the outcome is the same – independence.
International White Cane Day was marked at the weekend and the Albury community held their own event on Monday.
Ilonka Trost was among the group of clients who have been doing so for 10 years, though for the past two years she has been accompanied by her guide dog Zoe.
Ms Trost said it was important for people, if they wished to provide assistance, to not assume the best way to do so, but ask the person using the cane first.
“The day is for people to be aware of the cane and what it stands for – which is the same as what a guide dog stands for,” he said.
“It doesn’t happen so much anymore, but many years ago during the time I was using a cane, I found some people thought because I had a cane, I didn’t know what I was doing.
“It’s okay to ask.”
Ms Trost said she had noticed changes in the cane over the past 20 years; they had become lighter.
There are a range of different canes that can be used – there is even a version that has a larger ball at the end, so it can be used on sand and doesn’t get bogged.
Vision Australia regional practice leader Katrina Daniher said the awareness day was ‘in recognition of people using white canes for their independence’.
“People who are blind or low-vision start with a long cane, because if something happens to their guide dog, or if they can’t take the dog if they go away, they still have those cane skills to draw on,” she said.
Furthermore, Vision Australia NSW/ACT Client Services general manager Michael Simpson shared stories of vision-impaired travellers who used their canes.
“I think there might be a bit of a perception that people who are blind or have low vision aren’t going to visit places like sighted people do, but our clients told us of visiting places like Alcatraz, Egypt, the Great Wall of China and a lot more,” he said.
Mr Simpson also raised that 97 per cent of clients experienced obstructions on footpaths, with the most common being furniture from shops and cafes including tables, chairs, sandwich boards and clothes racks.
“We’re calling on businesses, local councils and other stakeholders to ensure they consider the needs of the blind and low-vision community when it comes to deciding what is on a footpath,” he said.