POTTSTOWN PA – A white cane, the internationally recognized symbol of persons who are blind or visually handicapped, this week will be high on the minds of members of the Pottstown-Stowe Lions Club as they observe Monday (Oct. 15, 2012) as National White Cane Safety Day, and promote sight-related projects Friday through Sunday (Oct. 19-21) at Redner’s Warehouse Market on North Charlotte Street.
Like many of the clubs chartered by Lions International, the 21-member Pottstown-Stowe chapter focuses much of its civic service on local vision assistance and vision improvement programs, club President Ronne Schoudt said Sunday (Oct. 14). It annually provides eye glasses at little or no cost to a number of Pottstown area residents, and it also collects used eyeglasses that are processed and shipped for distribution to those in need elsewhere.
The club also supports programs that deal with eye health or assistance for the blind, including Leader Dogs For The Blind, Beacon Lodge, the Delaware Valley Eye Bank, the Pottstown Training Center, and other local non-profits.
In addition, Schoudt said, the club plays its role with other area organizations in supplying volunteer help for the West Pottsgrove Township Community Days and Pottstown’s July 4th Celebration. During 2010 it sponsored the Thunder Outreach “East Coast Thunder” car show outside Sunnybrook Ballroom in Sanatoga.
The club’s National White Cane Safety events not only let the public know about the Lions’ activities locally, but also serve as a fund-raiser to continue them in the future. Donations collected from the public this weekend constitute a substantial portion of the club’s charitable budget, Schoudt noted.
The white cane itself is a decades-old symbol of the visually impaired. It is said to have originated in 1921 when James Biggs, a British photographer who was blinded in an accident, felt uncomfortable with the amount of traffic near his home. He painted his walking stick white to be more easily visible to speeding passers-by.
Nine years later, the Lions Club in Peoria IL promoted the independent mobility of the blind by introducing and distributing white canes marked with a red band. The idea became so popular that Peoria’s city council adopted an ordinance giving the cane-bearers the right-of-way to cross the street.
The effort’s success went international, according to Schoudt: “white cane laws” today afford blind persons a legal status in traffic in every state in the U.S. and many other countries. Congress in 1964 authorized presidential discretion to annually proclaim Oct. 15 as White Cane Safety Day.
The Pottstown-Stowe Lions Club represents a 2009 merger of separate Lions clubs in both municipalities. Each was more than 50 years old at the time. The single chapter now includes members from Pottstown, Stowe, and all three Pottsgrove townships.