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CNIB celebrates national White Cane Week

Dane Gibson
Northern News Services

Yellowknife (Feb 09/00) - It's hard enough getting down a Yellowknife street when the wind is blowing and the snow is whipping your face, but imagine doing it when you're blind.

With 150 Northern clients -- 25 who are in Yellowknife -- the Canadian National Institute of the Blind (CNIB) is definitely busy. This week is national White Cane Week and today (Wednesday) is the first annual National Braille Day.

"The kinds of services the CNIB provides are things like teaching life skills to persons who are blind or visually impaired," said CNIB regional director Christina Vernon.

"That could be to those who are newly blind, such as an elder, or somebody who has been blind since birth."

She said because of the adverse weather and distances between Northern communities, teaching white cane techniques to clients can be difficult.

"In terms of delivering services to our Northern clients, the distances and cost of travel are very challenging," said Vernon.

"Also, blind travellers who use a white cane rely on sidewalks as a means to guide them -- but many of the communities don't have sidewalks so that becomes a challenge."

Grade 7 Weledeh school student Angela Kalluk has been blind since birth. Having a white cane to guide her, she said, gives her confidence.

"There are different kinds of white canes. Mine is called a mobility cane -- it's long so it helps expand my view as I walk," said Kalluk.

"If I'm in an unfamiliar place I need a sighted guide to explain where I am. I like people to describe my surroundings but the white cane tells me where things are."

Vernon said the important thing for people to remember is the only thing different about the visually impaired is that they do things differently.

"Part of what White Cane Week is about is educating people that blind and visually impaired people are capable and able to contribute to the community," said Vernon.

"And Braille Day is about drawing attention to the significance of braille as a literacy tool in the lives of people who are blind."

Braille uses a six-dot system to communicate symbols by touch. Kalluk is a big fan of braille.

"I read lots," said Kalluk.

"One of my favourite books is called The Touch of Light, which is the story of Louis Braille -- who invented Braille 179 years ago."