White Cane Awareness Day

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Ms. Ganger speaks to student Ellashae Maddox before the start of the Q&A. (Photo courtesy of Tina Dong).

Parkview students also recently celebrated White Cane Awareness Day, a day to bring awareness to visually impaired students and their struggles. Ms. Patricia Ganger and students Ellashae Maddox (10th) and Bryant Cisneros (9th) spoke to students about the importance and meaning behind White Cane Awareness Day in addition to answering questions regarding being visually impaired.

To begin, Parkview’s Media Center Specialist, Mrs. Heidi Campbell, introduced the three guest speakers, and informed students of a new book display featuring visually impaired characters and information. 

Ms. Ganger is the only full time teacher of the visually impaired at Parkview. She teaches students who are blind and visually impaired to “do a wide range of things.” With the help of Maddox and Cisneros, Ms. Ganger answers the many questions that students have regarding White Cane Awareness Day and visual impairment. 

Common questions that the trio often hear include: “Why are you visually impaired” or “How old were you when you became visually impaired?” To answer these questions, Maddox and Cisneros begin by explaining White Cane Awareness Day.

Maddox says, “White Cane Day is a celebration of blind people and our accomplishments. It’s a celebration of our independence and… us. So it’s our holiday, and we claim it, and we’re very loud about it.”

Adding on, Cisneros says: “Blindness awareness month is basically… to raise awareness about us and people like us. And to show people that… hey, we’re here too. We are independent people as well.”

After providing an introduction and explanation to the purpose behind White Cane Awareness Day, the speakers gave insight into their backgrounds. 

Maddox shares how she was diagnosed with a brain disease that broke down her sight over time to the point where she can only see light. 

Similar to Maddox, Cisneros was born with perfect vision. However, at nine months old, Cisneros was diagnosed with cancer, which spread to his eyes. 

Lastly, Ms. Ganger was born with a visual impairment and multiple conditions that affected her vision. As an infant, she faced many health issues. All of this led to her losing vision completely in her left eye. Eventually, doctors decided to remove the eye and replace it with a prosthetic eye. On the other hand, her right eye can still retain a small amount of vision. Despite having a small amount of vision, she is still considered legally blind. 

Following their introductions, the trio opened the floor up to questions from students. 

Maddox addresses one of the main questions from students: How does the cane function? She says, “It’s super cool, and that’s what we’re celebrating. There are many different tactics you can use, but the majority is, it’s an object finder. So it finds something so I don’t find it with my body.” 

Ms. Ganger goes on to inform students that white canes have been around for a long time. In fact, for as long as history has been tracked, “there have been blind people using some form of long pole, stick, or cane to navigate.” She then demonstrates the adaptations that have been made to the modern day cane, such as how they can be folded. There are multiple ways to fold a cane, but the basis is that a cane is used by tapping or sweeping in order to pinpoint the location of an object. 

One of the major issues faced by visually impaired individuals are the misconceptions surrounding blindness. Cisneros says, “The one I hear a lot is that I can’t do things on my own…. People think that a lot of things are just done for me, and that I’m not able to do them by myself. But, y’know, I can.” 

Ms. Ganger adds: “For me it’s… when people assume I can’t hear.” Oftentimes, individuals think that visually impaired people have intellectual disabilities or lack the ability to walk due to their canes. Assumptions regarding the capabilities of visually impaired people run rampant, including in places like at school, or at a restaurant.

Furthermore, the trio provides insight into what a day in their lives look like. Unlike individuals with perfect or “normal” vision, those who are visually impaired have to be more organized. Once something is lost, it’s near impossible to recover as there are no visual cues to indicate the location of an item. 

Towards the end of the Q&A, the trio lets students know that rather than assuming they need help, just ask. The stigma around being visually impaired is a difficult one to overcome, but with the help of Ms. Ganger, Ellashae Maddox, and Bryant Cisneros, there is a little less misinformation out there.