SYRACUSE, NY – President Barack Obama’s Oct. 1 signing of the National Disability Employment Awareness Month proclamation combines with National White Cane Safety Day to raise awareness of the needs of people with disabilities related to employment and travel.
“I urge all Americans to embrace the unique value that individuals with disabilities bring to our workplaces and communities and to promote everyone’s right to employment,” President Obama said when he signed the proclamation.
President Lyndon Johnson named Oct. 15 National White Cane Safety Day in 1964 to raise drivers’ awareness of the safety of legally blind pedestrians.
In New York State, the White Cane Law requires drivers to yield to people who have a white cane or a dog guide. The law also says that only people who are legally blind are allowed to use a white cane, which is selected for the traveler by a qualified instructor.
For Donna Reese, 49, of Syracuse, every month is a disability awareness month.
Reese dealt for many years with glaucoma and keratoconus, which took the sight in her left eye about three years ago.
“I didn’t want anyone to look at me differently or pity me, so I kept my condition a secret to everyone outside my immediate family,” she said.
Shortly afterwards, a corneal ulcer took the vision in her right eye, leaving her completely blind.
“It was the most horrifying moment of my life!” she said.
Although surgery restored some vision, she was now legally blind.
“For an active, independent person like me, this sent my self-esteem into free-fall,” said the former inpatient therapy aide and president of the Syracuse chapter of the NAACP. “I had my private pity parties and was literally afraid to go outside.”
Reese was referred to Aurora of CNY, a nonprofit that serves people with vision and hearing loss.
An orientation and mobility instructor from Aurora visited her and together they explored the streets of Syracuse.
The instructor taught her how to use her white cane, her hearing, her remaining vision, and her common sense to get around.
Once Reese regained her confidence in her ability to travel, she wanted to get back to work.
Working with Aurora, the New York State Commission for the Blind, and the SUNY Educational Opportunity Center, she updated her computer and office skills.
Today she works as an outreach specialist at Aurora’s office in downtown Syracuse.
She takes the bus to work.
“The training I received gave me my confidence back. If not for that, I’d still be in my room at home, pitying myself and afraid to go anywhere,” she said.
Aurora of CNY is the only non-profit that works exclusively with people in Central New York who are deaf, blind, visually impaired or hard of hearing.
Aurora is a United Way agency of Central New York and Oswego and Cayuga counties.
For more information, call 422-7263 (TDD 422-9746).