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International White Cane Day

On International White Cane Day, we celebrate the achievements of people with blindness or low vision who use a white cane.

A young boy learns to use his white cane

This day is always an important one on the Guide Dogs calendar, as the white cane is the mobility tool of choice for most of our Clients.

This year’s theme for IWCD is ‘Clear the Way’.

Clear the Way is about tapping into the literal and figurative. Let’s not just remove physical obstructions, but also non-physical barriers, such as stigma and discrimination, to allow for better access and inclusion.

Earlier this year, a Guide Dogs Australia-commissioned Ernst & Young report surveyed 622 people with low vision or blindness to understand inclusion barriers. It found:

A person using their white cane while walking down a path in a park.
  • More than four in five people with low vision or blindness have experienced challenges in public places or while using public transport in the past two years.
  • Only 31 percent of non-Guide Dog Handlers report feeling very or extremely confident when accessing their communities.
  • Nearly all (96 percent) respondents have experienced challenges with footpaths in the past two years, with overhanging branches proving the most problematic issue.
  • More than half of non-Guide Dog Handlers report feeling not at all confident or only slightly confident when crossing a road.

This year, Guide Dogs Australia is encouraging Australians to ‘Clear the Way’ and be more mindful of how their actions in public places directly affect people who use a white cane to navigate their community. Together we can make our streets safer and more accessible. By being more conscious and aware of our actions and their consequences, we can make life better for everyone.

How accessible is your business?

  • Question 1 of 5 Do you know how to help Clear the Way? Take the quiz and find out!

    1. When it comes to overhanging branches, there is nothing I can do to Clear the Way for people who use a white cane.
    If you notice branches causing a hazard on a public footpath, you can help Clear the Way by reporting it to the relevant local council, or, if it is on your property, trimming the branches.
  • Question 2 of 5 If parking a car in a driveway, it does not matter if part of the vehicle is on the footpath.
    It’s important to never block a footpath with any part of your vehicle. Not only does it present a hazard for people who use a white cane, but it could also be a fineable offence.
  • Question 3 of 5 When people ride e-scooters and bikes on public footpaths they pose a significant risk to people who use white canes.
    Often riding at speed and with little to no sound, e-scooters and e-bikes pose a significant risk to not just people who use a white cane, but all other people using a footpath. In many areas, riding e-scooters and e-bikes on footpaths is illegal.
  • Question 4 of 5 If I am walking on a footpath and a person with a white cane is approaching from another direction, I should step out of their way.
    Footpaths vary in width from narrow on suburban streets to wide in central locations, which means when a person with a white cane is approaching you on a footpath, your best cause of action is to Clear the Way. If you feel they may need assistance, it is important to ask before taking any action.
  • Question 5 of 5 I can make a difference in my community through small, but meaningful actions to Clear the Way.
    Many actions to Clear the Way are small and benefit everyone – but especially people who use a white cane. Whether it’s reporting poor footpaths, or simply ensuring our bins are not positioned in access points on rubbish day – together we can make a huge difference.

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Room for improvement

You can help make life easier and safer for people with low vision by:

  • Reporting or clearing hazardous branches
  • Preventing your vehicle from blocking the footpath
  • Riding your bikes and e-scooters on the road instead of walking paths.
  • Allowing space and move out of the way when you see someone using a white cane.
  • Asking before taking any action to help someone with a white cane.

You scored out of 5

Clear the Way Champion!

Well done! You pay attention while out and about and make sure the environment is safe for people with low vision or blindness.

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"The path obstacle I commonly experience is outdoor seating at restaurants or cafes, especially in warmer weather. I would just ask that businesses and people be more mindful about where chairs are left, how far out they sit, or crowding around ordering and queuing because it can make it much harder to navigate. The lack of tactile surfaces in public is also a major barrier because those are so crucial to help indicate simple things for people who use white canes, including when stairs are coming or when I am at the edge of a busy road. E-bikes and scooters are also really popular, but when they get dumped in the middle of a path, they can be tricky to get around and slow me down. "
- Jamal Abdul, Guide Dogs Client and white cane user
Coles has unleashed a new national fundraising campaign for Guide Dogs
From now until 21 May, Coles will donate five cents for every dog food product sold.