Sunday, October 15

White Cane Day Activities

The following post was started on October 11, and compiled over the next few days.

Greetings. Today is a significant day in Austin, for its White Cane Day. This day is usually celebrated on October 15, but today was the city-wide celebration. I must say right off that, even in my years of living in Dallas, nothing like what happened today ever happened in Dallas, or somehow I never heard of it. Indeed, one person said that its probably the largest celebration and gathering of blind people for the celebration in the state, perhaps in the country.

For me, it began when I boarded the route 5 bus at around 7:45 this morning, told the driver I wanted to go to “Eleventh and Congress,” and took my seat. About 5 or 7 minutes later, we picked up another passenger who was also going to that same spot. At about 8:00, we stopped in front of Criss Cole, and picked up a few more passengers who were going there to. I should mention that by “a few more,” I mean like at least 10 or 15, perhaps more, blind and sighted people with blindfolds and canes. I didn’t mention anything to the driver about these people, who were my colleagues and some were my students, getting on at any point. Thus, I think he was caught off guard a little, since after the first five or six people got on, he said, “You just let me know when you’re ready and we’ll go.” Someone said ok, and people kept boarding and getting themselves situated. Someone finally said, “Ready,” and we were off.

We got to Eleventh and Congress at about 8:30, and as we got off the bus, we slowly made our way over to the gathering area. For some perspective on this celebration, blind people from all in and around Austin were participating, including the Texas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired (TSBVI), Criss Cole, the Austin Lighthouse, and other groups and individuals. So to say that there was a lot of people would probably be a little bit understated.

We were all gathering to march down Congress from Eleventh to Second streets, and then go West and make our way to City Hall. By the way, the State Capitol is at 11th and Congress. I had my Talks enabled cell phone with me and took the liberty of taking, or attempting to take, a few pictures. I did this throughout the day and in all, got about 14 shots. Though I don’t know how many are actually good ones or ones to keep. I’ll go through them later with someone and see, and hopefully be able to put some up on my website. Anyway, with the help of a mobility instructor I know real well, I was able to get a great shot of the Capitol.

So here we all are, milling around and talking with one another, saying hello to new people and greeting old friends. As it happened, I ended up seeing a former teacher I had both at Criss Cole and TSBVI. That was cool.

Shortly after 9, we started forming in different groups to get ready to march. Then, at about 9:15, someone gave the signal and we all started off. The deal was for the kids at the School for the Blind to lead the march, and everyone else would fall in behind. We were told that we could march on either side of Congress. So picture a mass of blind and sighted people, many with canes and blindfolds, all moving down both sides of a street. There was a television news chopper that flew overhead at the start of the march, and there were other media people all over the place, interviewing, taking pictures, and the like. Many people were wearing blue shirts that had been custom made for the event, that had the state capitol on them and said, “White Cane Day 2006,” across the front. There were other phrases on the front and back. On the back top of the shirt, near the shoulders, there was a phrase in Braille that said, “How’s my driving?” I’m sure that there were other pictures on the shirts, but I don’t remember what those were.

At around 10:15, we reached City hall. Some people stood in groups chatting and others found their way to some bleachers and other seating areas. I was off to find my way to the bleachers. I asked directions of a couple of people and thought I was going the right way. The last person I asked directions from, told me to go left. So I did, more or less, and found myself climbing a raised area. The bleachers were atop some concrete, so I thought that this was where I was. However, soon after I was on this platform, someone came to my side and asked me if I was looking for something or someone in particular. When I told them that I was looking for the bleachers, they directed me there. Before we left the platform though, I asked them where we were, and they said, “Oh, you’re on the stage.” That would have been a little awkward if the program were to start and I was standing there, kind of looking like I knew what I was doing, but not really knowing where to go.

I eventually found a spot and claimed it. After a few minutes, someone got on the microphone and welcomed everyone, which caused one of many cheers to go up from the audience. One of the people that welcomed the crowd was Elmo, from Sesame Street. I wondered afterward if Elmo had his own cane. I attempted to take several pictures of Elmo and the people on the stage. We’ll have to see how those came out, or if I even got anything.

After several people were introduced and thanked and the supporting organizations of the event were allowed to each say few words, the proclamation from the mayor was read. During all this, the crowd cheered at appropriate places, and whenever everyone felt like it.

After all these things, we all were instructed how to get to Republic Square Park, which is where they were going to have a celebration and picnic. I again took several pictures at the park, including a “tug of competition,” as someone called it, between TSBVI and Criss Cole. One of the students at Criss Cole was able to get several restaurants to participate in the picnic, including two barbeque places. That was some good food. There was also a band that cranked up at around 11 and played until one. The notable thing about this band, Blue Mist, is that all of the members are blind. They sounded good, but if I had any say in it, then I might have liked to have the tables and chairs placed a little further from the stage so the music wasn’t blaring into my face. However, they were good. Apparently, Blue Mist is the only band where all the members are blind in the Austin area.

I left with several students and another staff member at around 2, but didn’t make it back till a little before 4. All in all, it was a cool day, and one of the things that makes me appreciate my job. After all, how often can you march to City Hall, stuff your face with barbeque and sausage, and basically have a good time, and still get paid for it?

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