Valley Manor Elementary School Special Education Teacher Michelle Olivier has a goal in mind which is to help area residents and motorists become more educated when it comes to others that may be blind or partially blind. This year, Olivier is working with 8 year old Matthew Rudolph, who is visually impaired on the use of a white cane in and around the school and through this, has decided to learn more herself so she can help share information with others.
“I wanted to provide some education, not just here at the school, but also in the community about the use of a white cane and some of the things that we need to think about when encountering someone with a white cane – both students and drivers,” Olivier said. With this in mind, she reached out to CNIB, formerly known as the Canadian National Institute for the Blind. CNIB is a non-profit organization that celebrated 100 years in 2018. Their goal is to change what it means to be blind today by offering innovative programs and to advocate for those impacted by blindness to live a normal life. Olivier received some details from Danae Mack, who is the Orientation and Mobility Specialist at CNIB, and has been extremely helpful in providing information and supports for Olivier to use within the school.
The white cane is one of the most common tools used by people who are blind to safely navigate their surroundings. According to CNIB, the white cane is recognized around the world, and is also an important identification tool. “It’s a clear signal to others the user is a person with sight loss.”
Although not all people who are blind require the use of a white cane, or a guide dog, these are things to watch for and for Olivier, it is important for motorists to understand what to look for, not just in the Martensville school zones, but everywhere. “Drivers can come across someone utilizing a white cane anywhere in their travels, and it is important to be aware of your surroundings and to understand why that person has a white cane. We just want to ensure that everyone is safe and aware,” Olivier said.
Raelyn Janzen, Matthew’s mother, urges motorists to exercise extra caution when driving. “I have always raised Matthew to be really cautious, but for drivers, he looks like every other kid out there. They can’t tell that he is unable to see them just by looking at him. We are working on getting him a white cane to use when he is out and about, which will help, but in the end, it is all of our responsibility to ensure the safety of all children when we are driving,” Janzen said. A concern for Janzen is that Matthew relies heavily on his hearing; however, in high noise areas, such as the school zone, it is difficult for him to determine if it is safe to cross the street or not.
Janzen noted that it has always been difficult to find a balance of exercising caution, while at the same time, teaching Matthew to be more independent, which is part of the reason they recently moved to Martensville from Saskatoon. “There is less traffic here, so we have been able to work with him on walking to school from our house, or walking to his grandma’s house around the corner. I am really grateful for the support that we have gotten from the school between the other kids, the Educational Assistants and the teachers. He has a great team behind him,” explained Janzen.
In the end, both Janzen, and Olivier have the same goal in mind, which is to ensure that all children can get home safe at the end of the day.