Taking an unfamiliar walk
Published: October 16, 2013
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ST. CROIX - Esther Sweeney walked slowly and carefully as she guided her long white cane in front of her. She walked along the narrow street in Frederiksted dragging her cane on the asphalt, hoping not to step in any potholes or run into parked vehicles.
With the aid of her friend Sonia Kelly Williams, ADA compliance coordinator at the V.I. Legislature, Sweeney made it around the block safely and as she returned to Buddhoe Park, she removed her bright green blindfold with a sigh of relief.
Sweeney, district manager of the Office of Adult Protective Services in the V.I. Human Services Department, only wore the blindfold for a short while as she tried to put herself in the shoes of the many disabled people she helps on a daily basis.
She said the short walk around the Custom house and UCA block was much more difficult than she imagined it could be and was scary at times.
"The road is bumpy and uneven, if you cannot see, it makes you really nervous that you may fall," she said. "It's not easy. It's not easy at all."
The trek around the block was one that Sweeney did not make alone. She joined dozens of disabled residents for the 8th Annual Lion's Club White Cane Day observation.
Since 1931, White Cane Day has been a national observance celebrated on Oct. 15. The date is set aside to celebrate the achievements of people who are blind or visually impaired and the important symbol of independence for the blind - the white cane.
The Lions' Club observation included dozens of members of the Center for Independent Living, which provides specialty training for the disabled in various areas that they can use at home or in the workplace.
The sentiments of the day echoed similarly for most of the participants who said that there needs to be a greater awareness of the local White Cane Legislation that was introduced by Sen. Sammuel Sanes in 2011. Many of the disabled say they have been ignored by most of the community and do not get reliable basic services.
Many complained about lack of sidewalks, accessible entrances to some buildings, telephones that do not function when the power is out and even late pick-ups and drop-offs by the VITRAN buses.
Glenn Webster, on behalf of fellow disabled residents, thanked the club and the center for championing the cause to bring awareness to their plight.
"The local ADA community salutes you both for continuing to work with us throughout the years and to push to make our community more accessible to citizens with disabilities," he said.
Webster put a special plea out to motorists, saying they need to exercise more compassion and patience when they see someone with a white cane, or in a wheelchair or with any other disability on the road.
He said especially for the visually impaired who use the white canes, there are a few rules specific to them including not honking the car horn, not stopping in the middle of a crosswalk, not waving to the blind pedestrian to cross the street.
"You know most of these are common sense issues, they take just a little patience to look out for our people," he said.
The ceremony was supposed to be followed by a voter registration drive primarily for the disabled, but Webster, who is also a member of the St. Croix Board of Elections, said it had to be canceled because he was the only board member present.
He said there had to be at least two board members present for the registrations to take place, and at that time it was only him and a member of the staff available. He said the drive may be rescheduled.
- Contact reporter Fiona Stokes at 714-9149 or email email@example.com.