by Dan Spoone
October 15 is White Cane Safety Day and an opportunity for the blind and visually impaired community to celebrate our accomplishments and increase awareness of our capabilities to the broader population. This year presents unique challenges with the COVID-19 virus and the constraints on social distancing with the risk of congregating in large groups for community events. So, how do we advocate and continue to demonstrate our value and capabilities in the middle of a pandemic?
The solution might be fairly simple. Leslie and I feel very blessed. We had a chance to take a trip after the ACB convention to our favorite place. Key West is a 4- by 2-mile island at the end of the Florida Keys. It is 160 miles southwest of Miami and only 90 miles from Cuba. Key West is the second oldest city in the United States. It was first settled in 1553, when Florida was part of the Spanish Empire. The city has been destroyed several times by hurricanes and fires. Old Town Key West features over 150 historic homes. The island is adjacent to a large barrier reef that is the home to amazing aquatic life and the Dry Tortugas National Park, which houses Fort Jefferson. Key West has a vibrant art community with live music, galleries, museums and countless open-air restaurants. However, what we find so appealing is the pedestrian-friendly environment. You can walk everywhere you want to go. How perfect for a blind couple! It provides Leslie and I an amount of freedom we have not found anywhere else. We can start our day with a wonderful breakfast only 50 feet from the Gulf of Mexico with live New Orleans jazz piano music. We walk back to our bed and breakfast for a quick look at our ACB emails and then it’s a two-block walk to the gym for a morning workout. After the gym, it’s a short one-block walk to our favorite key lime shop for a smoothie. We spend time at the pool and try to find something new each day to explore. Several years ago, we were asked to speak at the local Lions Club. We talked about accessible voting, audio description and quiet cars. Two weeks later, we received a package from the City of Key West, proclaiming October 15 Dan and Leslie Spoone White Cane Safety Day in Key West. This was really cool, but it really caught us by surprise.
What it pointed out to me is that the best way to promote independence, awareness and our capabilities is to live our lives to the fullest.
If nothing else, we are conspicuous. People are observing us wherever we go. People see us working out in the gym. They see us navigating the streets to enjoy a meal or listen to music. They see us touring a museum, watching a movie or taking a walk to the beach. In short, they see us as an integrated member of the community. We belong and we are accepted for who we are.
This trip was different with the virus. We wore our goggles and masks through the airport and on the plane. There were gallons of hand sanitizer and disinfectant wipes at the ready. The music bars were closed, and the city ordinance required all restaurants to close at 11 p.m. The tables were six feet apart, and it was interesting to do the sighted guide dance without making physical skin contact.
However, we still had that wonderful sense of freedom, independence and belonging. Leslie and I kept receiving comments on how great it was to see us back in town. It made us feel alive after four months of barely leaving our house. It was such a sense of community!
We are now living in a new world. It used to be that you had to check your pocket for your keys and phone before you left the house. Now, you need your keys, phone, mask, goggles, hand wipes, disinfectant spray, gloves and rabbit’s foot to take a vacation, but it’s worth it. We hope you had a good summer. Remember that it is the simple act of living our lives to the fullest that makes the biggest impression.