By: Summer Beasley-Hoffman, WBRC Mobility Instructor
A stream of over 70 people wearing white and red shirts flowed through the streets of downtown Palo Alto, CA the morning of October 15th, 2010. They walked using long white or yellow canes, guide dogs, wheelchairs, human guides, and GPS devices. The group of marchers organized by the Western Blind Rehabilitation Center consisted of WBRC veterans and staff as well as representatives from organizations such as the Palo Alto Host Lions Club, Bookshare, and the Sendero Group.
The Grand Marshall was Mr. Walter Sullens, WBRC Alum and organizer of the Tustin White Cane Society. Mr. Sullens lead the group, chanting marching cadences into a megaphone, and keeping the group in time. Heads of bystanders on the street, in restaurants and stores turned to watch. Traffic stopped as the walkers marched in force across the intersections. Pamphlets outlining the law were presented to pedestrians and stopped drivers as the group marched by. The message was clear; ‘stop for long canes and guide dogs, it’s the law’.
On October 6, 1964, a joint resolution of the Congress was signed into law authorizing the President of the United States to proclaim October 15 of each year as "White Cane Safety Day". Within hours of the passage, then-President Lyndon B. Johnson publicly recognized the importance of the white cane as a symbol of independence for individuals who are blind. Today there is a variant of the White Cane Law on the statute books of every state in the nation and White Cane Safety Day is nationally recognized with marches and celebrations.
Once the walk concluded, marchers assembled in front of Palo Altos’ City Hall. The Grand Marshal, Walter Sullens, spoke to the group and encouraged independence, empowerment, and pride. Sid Espinosa, the Vice Mayor of Palo Alto, spoke to the group and expressed support for the cause, accessibility, and community awareness. Smiles abounded and canes were displayed as a group photograph was taken to document the event. The group disbanded, hopeful that the message was received and the community was more aware.