Letters to the Editor | Sunday Observer

Letters to the Editor

Help the blind travel independently


The symbol of the walking stick or cane in the hand of a person who is blind goes back to biblical times and beyond. Blind persons have used bamboo stick and even tree branches to alert them to obstacles in their path. Therefore, it is obvious that the white cane is not just a symbol of blindness, but a tool that can be used to achieve freedom in mobility.

In the early days, blind persons have walked with their canes held diagonally in a fixed position. But when the blinded veterans of World War II returned to America, the form and the use of the white cane was completely altered. A method known as the “Hoover” technique, or the long cane technique came in to practice in the United States.

US President Lyndon B. Johnson goes into history as the first to proclaim October 15 as White Cane Safety Day. The proclamation was made in 1964. This event marked a climatic moment in the long campaign of the organised blind movement to gain state as well as national recognition for the white cane. The presidential proclamation also emphasised the significance of the action and the visible symbol. He said, “A white cane in our society has become one of the symbols of a blind person’s ability to come and go on his own. Its use has promoted courtesy and opportunity for mobility of the blind on our streets and highways.”

Sri Lanka first celebrated this significant event in 1969. The white cane is recognised as the blind person’s mobility aid the world over.

An increasing number of blind persons is on the move. Some have employment and commute to work each day. There are those who are active in their communities – some holding memberships in various organisations, attend meetings, church functions, sports activities and students attending schools and universities. Blind persons travel using all forms of transportation.

The public is becoming more accustomed to the idea that blind persons can go where they want to go on their own. Seeing blind persons on the pavement with a white cane in hand going to a particular activity or clasping the arm of a sighted guide is no longer unusual. The more they are seeing out and about going where they need to go, the better they will be accepted by the sighted public. As a result of this activity, attitudes and fears concerning blindness are waning.

All provincial councils, municipal councils, urban councils and the nation as a whole have the responsibility to provide safe pedestrian travel for all citizens, including the blind and vision- impaired. One way to do this is to install audible pedestrian signals at all busy intersections. Every time an audible signal is heard, the public will be reminded that people who are blind and vision impaired are also an active part of community life.

The signals should be there to assist them in their independent travel. They will provide strong evidence that the people who are blind and vision-impaired are moving around in the area on their way to walk, shop or perform other normal daily activities.

White cane safety day has become the day of the year to publicise the needs and achievements of the blind everywhere. However, our achievements have been few and far between while our hopes, aspirations and needs are growing.

Blind people in the country are an under-served community, who do not have access to mainstream programs and are undergoing a difficult time. Economic problems have hit the blind harder than the general population.

We still have to get our priorities correct. We need a national policy for people with disabilities, including the blind. Legislative enactments should be brought in to protect the blind from all forms of discrimination. We need social security and other benefits. Equal opportunities for education, adequate facilities for rehabilitation and training, equal opportunities for employment and the legal status for the white cane.

All provincial secretariats should maintain registers to keep count of the number of blind persons in the area, and blind persons should be registered, so that resources could be found to address their special needs. For example, rehabilitation and training facilities for blind are woefully inadequate which make the integration of the blind and vision-impaired into mainstream society virtually impossible.

You will appreciate that all the basic essentials of life, food, shelter, clothing, transport and medical bills are all bought on a commercial basis and not on the person’s ability to pay. Hence, we need to be protected from hazards and pennilessness of unemployment.

We need to secure a monthly state payment – a pension for the blind – at least for those who are over 35 years of age and unemployed. This payment should not be considered as a handout, but, aid as a right. This would improve our economic independence and boost our social standing in the community. Then, most of our basic essentials would fall into place. Today, the blind community as a whole from students to retirees looks to government for housing, food, income, student aid and other assistance.

Blind citizens deserve a better deal to ensure life is worth living. The blind are prepared to enter the mainstream society to play their individual roles in the development process of the country. But society must be prepared to give us that chance to do so. Please help us to use that potential to the good of the country. Then, the objectives of the Samurdhi Movement will become a reality, and the country will be stronger.

M.C. Jayasiri,
President, Blind Citizens Front.

Adhoc systems of the Prisons Dept.

The promotion interviews for five prison superintendents were held on September 17, 2019. All of them are to be promoted to the next rank in the Department of Prisons which is the “Special Grade Superintendent”.

The rank is “SSP”. These gentlemen have already worn the badges of the next rank in their uniforms for the past year when they are not eligible to do so without a gazette notification. The promotion interviews were held a few days ago.

It is laughable to note that these gentlemen had worn the SSP badges when they attended the interviews. The interview board had not realised this which is a rundown on the reputation of the public service of Sri Lanka.

These gentlemen are yet superintendents, but go beyond to be known as prison commissioners in official capacity with their ranks even printed in all letters of correspondence with the respective stamps and franks.

This has to be corrected by the public services commission without undue delay.

Prof. S. Subramaniyam,
Colombo 7.