UTICA — The blind and visually impaired led the blindfolded Tuesday in Utica to raise awareness for White Cane Safety Day and Blind Americans Equality Day.
Participants, including Utica Mayor Robert Palmieri and Oneida County Executive Anthony Picente Jr., were given blindfolds and white canes to walk from the intersection of Sherman Drive and Sherman Center to the Alumni College Center at Mohawk Valley Community College. Many were assisted by members of the Central Association for the Blind and Visually Impaired and the Utica Council of the Blind as they experienced blindly navigating a street.
Prior to the walk, advocates for the blind and visually impaired joined Palmieri and Picente for a pair of declarations designating Oct. 15 as White Cane Safety Day and Blind Americans Equality Day in Utica and Oneida County.
White canes are the key tool for independence for the blind and visually impaired, said Maria Gage, president of the Utica Council for the Blind.
“We want everyone to know that we want to be safe traveling the streets of Utica so that we can be productive members of this community,” Gage said. “We want to work, we want to go to school, we want to shop, we want to go home and we want to do it safely.”
Picente said it's important to recognize advocates for the blind and visually impaired and the mobility challenges they face.
“One of the great things that we love about this city and about where we live is the ability to walk around and enjoy all aspects of it,” he said.
Palmieri said people can sometimes take for granted the ability to freely walk through the city.
“At this time, as we’re moving forward, it’s imperative that we make sure that we’re conscious of all the needs — that you feel independent as you walk our great city,” Palmieri said. “And you’ve done so much for our city to make it to be that transformational city. A warm, welcoming city.”
White Cane Safety Day was first recognized in 1964 by President Lyndon B. Johnson to celebrate the achievements of blind Americans and recognize the role of the cane in independence for the blind. Blind Americans Equality Day was nationally recognized on the same day beginning in 2011 through a proclamation from President Barack Obama.
October is also Vision Awareness Month, during which people are encouraged to have an annual eye exam to maintain eye health and prevent vision loss.
Contact reporter Steve Howe at 315-792-5015 or follow him on Twitter (@OD_Howe).