Duluth Mayor Don Ness experiences blindness

By KBJR News 1

October 15, 2013 Updated Oct 15, 2013 at 10:02 PM CDT

Duluth, MN (NNCNOW.com) --- Duluth Mayor Don Ness braved the elements to experience blindness, walking along the streets of Duluth, blindfolded, in commemoration of White Cane Safety Day.

"It's a nasty day out there today. We're grateful for the Mayor for still being willing to go out in the bad weather, but that is a reality for many people with vision loss," said Mary Junnila, executive director for the Lighthouse Center for Vision Loss.

Duluth Mayor Don Ness fought to walk through the wind and rain blindfolded, to raise awareness about the importance of watching for people in crosswalks, specifically those who are visually impaired.

"That was quite the experience," said Mayor Ness.

He also said it was a challenge to navigate city streets while blindfolded, but a good way to recognize the difficulties associated with visual imparity.

"Right now my hand is cramping and my every muscle in my body that was so tense through that experience is kind of feeling that fatigue," he said.

Fatigue that he says is nothing compared to what a visually impaired person has to deal with on a daily basis.

"...and that was just a very short walk," said Mayor Ness.

He also said that the experience made him realize just how important audible cues at intersections can be to those who cannot see.

"We have to work with drivers on the road and we all have to kind of do our part," said Lisa Larges, who has been blind her entire life.

And when sighted people don't do their parts tragedy can ensue, such as what happened in Superior in 2003 when a 57 year old blind man was struck and killed while trying to cross the street at a crosswalk.

"Hybrid cars, you can't even hear them... and that's been one of the issues," said Carol Pankow of Minnesota Services for the Blind.

Pankow says it's important to raise awareness because blind people live and work in our communities and are out and about every day.

"Rain or shine they're out doing that, and white cane is just a symbol of one of their tools to be independent and be successful in the community," said Pankow.

After walking blindfolded, Mayor Ness officially proclaimed October 15th White Cane Day in Duluth.

The white cane acts as a symbol of independence in the blind community, and those who use them say that they're proud to do so.

Elsa Robins