Recently, you may have read a story or seen it on the news about the little boy whose white cane was taken away from him because of behavior reasons. I wanted to take a minute to discuss this situation and why this is so wrong. The purpose of the white cane is to be a tool to allow a person or child who is blind or visually impaired independence.
As a person who is blind or visually impaired who depends on the use of my white cane for travel and independence, I am truly upset by this. We teach youth and adults who are blind or visually impaired to keep their cane with them. We encourage them to use it. The white cane is a tool and a pool toy is not a substitute, nor would be a broom, stick, or tent post. This would be like someone taking away a wheelchair or crutches from someone who needed these tools.
First of all, the reaction of the schools mentioning that the school purchased the white cane shows the lack of awareness of the importance of a white cane. A pool noodle is not a tool that allows a person to explore or to keep themselves safe. The use of the white cane helps me detect objects, stairs, holes, and doorways. I would not be traveling safely without my white cane, unless I was using a trained dog guide and had received my own training with the dog guide, too.
The fact is most people who are blind have experienced a white cane breaking while out and about. This is a horrible feeling, and when I am traveling for work, I have an extra with me. I think back to being in the middle of a mile-long walk to work and my cane broke. I was shocked and like, "Uh, this is not good." I had to use a broken white cane to navigate home to get another cane. Luckily, I am a lot like the old television character MacGyver, and I used a strap to makeshift my cane together.
Secondly, the white cane is specifically designed for multiple purposes. How do I know this? I was trained as an orientation and mobility instructor and taught this skill. One of the purposes for the white cane is identification. Do you think a driver or someone in the public would recognize an individual is blind while they carry a pool noodle or even a broom? No, they would not, and it has taken a lot of education of the public to create awareness around the white cane.
I don't think we need to get into behavioral management, as the decision was initiated by the bus driver. Bus drivers are not typically taught behavioral management, but we could get into common sense. The substitution of a pool noodle seems to show a purpose of humiliating the child, but I could be wrong. The real issue is no one should be able to take away a blind person’s white cane. Flight attendants have tried to take my cane, and I was like, "I don't think so." To me, this is like saying, why I don't I just poke you in the eyes. Just saying!
I commend Dakota and the Nafzinger Family for standing up and bringing this to the light of day. I guarantee things like this have happened in other areas, but families aren't always comfortable with highlighting the issue. The fact that this happened in an education setting means we still have a lot of awareness and educating of the public and even schools.
I wanted to provide you with the thoughts of a friend of mine who actually worked with Dakota as his teacher of the visually impaired (TVI) a few years back.
"When I first heard what happened, I was sad for Dakota and angry. When I read more about it, I really questioned why or how that could happen. I'm really proud of his family for speaking up and making this story public. I've seen it shared by many facebook friends that have no connection to him. The number of national news sites that picked up the story astounds me, too, as the story really went viral. I first shared the story because I questioned how the education professionals did not seem to have some basic education of the purpose of the white cane and hoped that the story would spread awareness of the white cane. And it did. But then, after reading comments of people trying to blame the family for not purchasing their own since canes are so "cheap," I realized that this story is bringing awareness of basic civil rights and special education laws for students with disabilities. I hope this situation can also help other school districts around the country really think about the appropriate punishment when it comes to all students. Thanks to everyone who has shared the story and stepped up for Dakota--he deserves it!"
-Kitty Greeley-Bennett, Dakota's former COMS and PreK TVI, current NLCSD Doctoral Fellow at Florida State University.
A Note From AFB Press
We'd like to suggest some reading material for schools to help them understand the unique needs of children with visual impairments, including those with additional disabilities: the series of booklets, "When You Have a Visually Impaired Student in Your Classroom" from AFB Press.
The white cane is a tool that promotes independence among youth who are blind or visually impaired. Don't take away a child's independence! You can go back and read my stories from National White Cane Safety Day about the importance of the white cane. Let me know about your experiences.
Here is an update on the story on CNN.com, too.