DENNIS ODA / DODA@STARBULLETIN.COM
About 180 blind and visually impaired people and supporters participated yesterday in the White Cane Walk. Marchers crossing Alakea Street included Ivanelle Hoe, left; Theola Manning; Art Capanilla; Landa Phelan with her seeing-eye dog, Miss Cearline; Lillian Koller, director of the state Department of Human Services; Brook Sexton; and Lt. Gov. Duke Aiona. CLICK FOR LARGE
White Canes leading the way
The "White Cane" walk reminds people to be aware of the visually impaired
KATIE KIEM is a blind woman who led the blind yesterday on a busy downtown sidewalk strewn with construction cones, fire hydrants and sprinklers.
Her white cane hit just about every obstacle yesterday as she led about 180 visually impaired people and their supporters on a mile-long walk marking "White Cane Safety Awareness Day."
The event is held to ask the public to keep an eye out for pedestrians with poor eyesight.
Kiem is a teacher at Ho'opono Services for the Blind, which has organized the walk for the past several years in conjunction with the national recognition day. Ho'opono is a branch of the Vocational Rehabilitation Division of the state Department of Human Services.
Dave Eveland, administrator at Ho'opono, said about 20 children, many of them from the neighbor islands, and former students of Ho'opono took part in the walk.
Human Services Director Lillian Koller, who joined the 10 a.m. walk at the state Capitol, said the white cane is important "in helping blind persons travel about independently in the community."
Kiem said she teaches "cane travel" and all the daily skills of independence, including grocery shopping, cooking and putting on makeup. She no longer fears the unknown -- what she cannot see. "I trust my world."
What disturbs her is "people's misconceptions" about the blind and their capabilities, pointing out that someone warned her about a sprinkler wetting the sidewalk on her right, when she had already heard it as she rounded the corner.
Kiem responded, in a joking way, "Are you saying I can run through it and get my legs wet?" Moments later, she grazed her head while trying to get around a tree, and those around her leaped forward to see if she was OK.
"People run into trees all the time. Why should people worry about me because I'm blind? I was aware it was there; it didn't really hurt me. ... So we get scratched; everyone gets scratched," she said.
Her blindness has not stopped her from long-distance swimming, boogie-boarding and hiking up Haleakala on Maui -- "Sometimes I lead them. ... I'm just doing it a little bit differently," Kiem said. "My blindness is a physical characteristic, just like my strawberry-blond hair."