Today is White Cane Day! On this day, we celebrate the blind and visually impaired by celebrating their achievements. We also use the day to recognize the white cane, a tool used by people without sight to help themselves get around.
There are things Malaysians should know in order to serve the blind in Malaysia. The most important thing is to be be inclusive and to know that the blind are the same as us, it’s just a different way of life.
Here are some important ways to help the blind in Malaysia.
1. Be friendly!
Helping a blind person can be quite intimidating, because we’re unsure on what to do. A good first step in this situation (and many other situations in life) is to adopt a friendly attitude. Greet them and ask them if and how you can help. Make sure you do it with your parent or teacher by your side, but don’t be afraid of taking the first step!
2. Speak normally
Sometimes we tend to accidentally speak louder in order to get a blind person’s attention. But remember, it’s not hearing that they have a problem with. To get their attention, simply call out their name in the same way you call out to a friend. Give them a gentle tap on the shoulder if necessary.
3. Don’t grab
Never grab a blind person’s white cane when trying to help them. A blind person relies on their cane for balance, as well as for assurance. Taking their cane away is doing them more harm than good.
4. Tell your intentions
If you’re leading a blind person somewhere, tap them on the shoulder, and then describe to them where you’re bringing them. When they are satisfied with your explanation, offer your arm and let them clutch it. It’s also helpful to warn them about bumps or holes on the road or any upcoming obstacles.
5. Don’t distract a guide dog
If a blind person is using a guide dog, don’t call, pet, feed or do anything to distract it from doing its job! You may endanger the blind person that’s holding the leash. Although these helpful dogs are rarely used in Malaysia, whenever you do see one, do remember to make way.
6. Be aware of facilities for the blind
Be aware of ‘tactile paving’. These are sheets of rubber flooring on pedestrian walkways that look like Lego sticking out of the ground. The blind brush their cane or feet along the rounded bumps to know where to go. They are also important as indicators to help the blind know when a pathway has ended. When you see a blind person using them, please give way.
It’s important to have an idea of what the blind experience in order to better know how to empathize with them. For starters, try attending a ‘Dialogue in the Dark’ session when you have the chance. You’ll be placed in a pitch black room with a white cane and a trained guide – who is blind – to help you. In the darkness, you’ll experience first-hand how the blind depend on their other senses to navigate through everyday life.
This will give you a better perspective on the challenges a blind person faces every single day. As Mr. Stevens Chan, the Founder & CEO of Dialogue in the Dark Malaysia puts it,“It’s not that Malaysians aren’t helpful, rather, they just don’t really know what to do. We need to move from sympathy to empathy”
Check out this video on Stevens Chan talking about Dialogue in the Dark, Malaysia.
Check out this video from CNN on Dialogue in the Dark as well!
If you’d like to volunteer in Dialogue in the Dark, click here for more information.