The Ghana Blind Union (GBU) has called for the elimination of all barriers that hamper the total inclusion of the blind and partially sighted persons in all facets of society.
That, the Union said, with adequate resources would give real opportunities to the blind and partially sighted persons to lead lives of dignity and progress.
Dr Peter Obeng -Asamoah, Executive Director of the GBU addressing a press conference to commemorate this year’s International White Cane Safety Day celebration, on Wednesday in Accra, said the barriers included discriminatory and negative social attitudes, primitive customs, mind sets, ignorance, pity, and stereotyping.
He said: “It is important that the entire social collective works consciously removed all social, physical and economic barriers that work against the total inclusion of blind and partially sighted persons, and the provision of a white cane to every blind person is the first step in that regard.”
He said the Day, which was normally on October 15, was set aside as a day to recognise the safety and independence of blind people globally.
Dr Obeng-Asamoah said mobility canes had been with man for as long as blindness or loss of sight had been around, and that it had proved itself to be a symbol of the blind and a reliable guide that allowed for the independence of movement and subsequently independence of function.
“Prior to the 1920s, a staff or cane was used by blind persons for basic mobility and was not painted white, however, it was primarily during the period between 1921 and 1931 that the white cane gained popularity and was promoted as a tool and symbol through Europe by the media and the Rotary club.”
The Executive Director said the colour white was chosen because it could be seen at a great distance and provided more safety for the bearer, especially as pertained to motor traffic.
He noted that the recognition of the white cane as a reliable guide that allowed for independence was the first step towards practical social inclusion.
He said: “The GBU believes that the entire phenomenon of social inclusion depicts a high level of independence on the part of the person with visual impairment. It is only when the dependency syndrome is broken or greatly reduced that blind and partially sighted persons will display the confidence as full members of their communities.”
Dr Obeng-Asamoah said statistics according to the Ghana Health Service, April 2022, indicated that there were an estimated 230,000 blind and partially sighted persons in Ghana, and that even though a large percentage of that number required the basic necessity of a white cane, due to weak financial situation of many, they were unable to afford it.
“According to information received from our 200 GBU district branches across the country, less than 40 percent of blind persons own a white cane. This is not a desirable situation and if as a nation we are looking into a holistic future, it is imperative not to leave this chunk of our citizenry behind.”
He said human development was central to the development of any country, and that with the requisite social environment the blind and partially sighted persons were ready to contribute to their own development as well as that of the community and ultimately, the nation.
“What blind persons require is not sympathy but opportunity because they have the potential to contribute their quota towards national development if given the necessary back up, recognition and encouragement.”
Dr Obeng-Asare said the problems of persons with visual disabilities in Ghana needed the concerted efforts of all persons, including the government, NGO’s, corporate bodies, civil society, and persons with disabilities themselves.
He appealed to well-meaning persons to support the “White cane for all” project embarked on by the GBU to provide requisite training on white canes for visually impaired persons.
Madam Janet Alamisi Dabire, Second Vice Board Chairperson, GBU, said the theme for this year’s celebration: “The white cane, a tool for social inclusion”, meant that requisite attention must be placed on the white cane to ensure that blind and partially sighted persons were given opportunities to live dignified and productive lives.
She said though the Day for the celebration was October 15, the GBU in partnership with Visio International chose to celebrate it later to add their voice and the voices of all blind persons to the need to focus on the importance of the white cane as a tool for social inclusion.
Madam Dabire said education on the use of the white cane must continue, saying: “Society is constantly reminded of the presence of the blind and partially sighted person, especially on the roads and it is crucial they appreciate the white cane as a tool for social inclusion.”