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White Cane Safety Day

October 13, 2018

SPEARFISH — Oct. 15 is White Cane Safety Day across the nation; a day few Americans know about, but one that brings an important issue to light: how to pay special consideration and courtesy to the blind and visually impaired members of our communities.

Jim Hoxie, a retired forester with Spearfish Forest Products has been legally blind for around five years. His blindness is caused by glaucoma, a severe pressure of fluid built up in his eyes that has damaged his optic nerves.

Hoxie’s field of vision has been getting narrower and narrower as blackness creeps in from all sides.

“So I’m looking through a very narrow window straight ahead,” he said. “And that window is very cloudy, like being in a fog all the time.”

Because Hoxie is also a veteran, he was able to qualify for treatment at the blind rehab center at the Edward Hines, Jr. Veterans Affairs Hospital near Chicago, Ill.

“It’s very intense training, it’s wonderful training,” he said. “The first day they’re handing you a white cane.”

Hoxie said the first day of his orientation and mobility training, his trainer took him into a busy hospital hallway and helped guide him using his white cane, giving him tips and hints on how to maintain his bearings without the use of his eyesight.

“You get the training and (the trainer is) telling you, as you come to an intersection, ‘do you feel that breeze, Jim?’ and you do, you feel a breeze at that intersection. … Then when you pass a water fountain. ‘Do you hear that water fountain?’ ‘Yeah’, ‘do you hear the vending machines?’ ‘Yeah, I do.’ About 500 yards into this building, he says, ‘OK, now take me back,’” Hoxie recalled with a chuckle.

Hoxie said he learned a lot about how to not just live with his blindness, but how to be alive while coping with it.

“They also teach living skills, how to make coffee and cooking,” he said. “They teach you so many things.” Hoxie is an avid woodworker and master gardener, skills he continued to hone using the training he got from the Hines center.

“For me the biggest thing was the orientation and mobility, the caning,” he called it.

Hoxie learned how to walk with his white cane; making sweeping motions like low-tech radar seeking out obstacles in his path, tapping the cane on the hard floor when approaching an intersection to alert other pedestrians to his presence, and the proper procedure for crossing a street. He’s put the time in learning how to get by in the world using his white cane; he says it’s time now for him to educate others.

A few days a week, Hoxie will leave his home on Englewood Court in Spearfish, which he shares with his wife Linda, and walk to Burger King to have coffee with a group of friends. He said he’s never had any major issues crossing the street especially since the city upgraded several of its crosswalks with flashing lights; however he’s noticed through interactions with people, that many of them just don’t know what a white cane is for.

“Not everyone knows what this (white cane) means,” he said. “I kind of assumed at first that they did. They don’t.”

Hoxie explained that the white cane is more than just a tool for the blind; it’s an indicator to other pedestrians and motorists to be aware of his condition, and how to react as well as interact with him based around his actions with the cane. For the most part, Hoxie said simple, but not so apparent courtesy is the biggest learning curve for people. Things like introducing yourself by name, and announcing your actions while you move are very appreciated by people with limited eyesight.

However for interactions that are much less personal, such as crossing the street, Hoxie says people are even less aware of their responsibilities to the blind. He explained that there are several stances someone using a white cane will take before crossing a street to help indicate to drivers their intetions. First, they will stand at the curb holding their cane in a vertical position to indicate their intention to cross, then they will extend their arm and hold the cane at a 45 degree angle to indicate they are about to step out onto the street, before they begin to move, they will start to make a sweeping motion with their cane. There is even a law in South Dakota outlining a motorists obligation in regards to blind pedestrians. South Dakota Codified Law 32-27-7 sates, “Duty of motorist to stop for pedestrian carrying cane or guided by dog--Violation as misdemeanor. Whenever a pedestrian is crossing or attempting to cross a public street or highway, guided by a guide dog or carrying in a raised or extended position a cane or walking stick which is white in color or white tipped with red, the driver of every vehicle approaching the intersection, or place where such pedestrian is attempting to cross, shall bring his vehicle to a full stop before arriving at such intersection or place of crossing, and before proceeding shall take such precautions as may be necessary to avoid injuring such pedestrian. A violation of this section is a Class 2 misdemeanor.”

Hoxie will be giving a presentation to third graders at Creekside Elementary School Oct. 22, in order to help teach kids how to interact with people who use white canes, and to hopefully spread the message about white cane safety.

Hoxie says he doesn’t view his blindness as a debilitation, simply an issue to be dealt with.

“I have my issue with sight,” he said. “I kind of think that most people have some sort of issue. It’s easy to become depressed, its easy to feel sorry for yourself, its easy to do that. But it’s a learning process, and I’m such a busy guy that I really don’t have much time for that.”

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