NEWPORT CITY – A group of about 20 individuals – some blindfolded, some with white canes, some arm and arm – braved the elements to find their way around downtown Newport City Monday. They are members of PALS (Peer Assisted Learning and Support) for people who have visual impairments.
“We were trying to get education into the community about what the cane is all about and why we have the white cane,” explained PALS facilitator Harriet Hall.
Members from PALS walked with business owners, politicians, officials from Vermont’s North Country Chamber of Commerce and students from the North Country Career Center. While some of the volunteers wore blindfolds, others acted as their leaders. The group walked from the Emory Hebard State Office Building, across Main Street toward the intersection of Main and Second Street, to the Goodrich Memorial Library, past the municipal building and up to the intersection of Main and Third Street. From there they walked down Main Street to Central Street toward Coventry Street and back to the state office building.
“We wanted it to be a positive educational experience. We wanted everybody just to know about what it’s really like to be blind and visually impaired," said Hall.
One group went into a store where a visually impaired person indicated she was not welcome with a guide dog.
“They said they knew they couldn’t keep us out, but said they didn’t want his hair on anything there,” recalled Carolyn Clapper of her previous visit to the store. “They made us stand by the door and not go in.”
That wasn’t the problem Monday and the same clerk was accommodating, Clapper said.
Sen. Bobby Starr of North Troy was one of the volunteers who wore a blindfold and carried a white cane. He called the walk itself challenging and his balance was off during the demonstration.
“It certainly gave me a different perspective of what these folks have to go through to get by,” said Starr. “Those of us who can see better feel very fortunate and try to make it better for folks with problems.”
Reynold Choinere knows the walk from both sides. Fourteen years ago, when he had vision, he participated in the walk as City Mayor. Monday he walked as a member of PALS. Choinere called the demonstration a great thing.
“I don’t think anybody even realizes what it is not to have your sight,” said Choinere.
Rep. Duncan Kilmartin of Newport City, who had participated in pervious demonstrations, said it’s really important for people to become aware of the obstacles. He said that intersections can be dangerous even for the people who know where they are because they’re not well marked. Kilmartin is pleased some areas will soon be safer, but would like to see more, which includes additional raised bumps in areas that don’t have them, plus signage for motorists.
Hall feels the volunteers received the message loud and clear. She also said it’s a good time to educate the community as Newport starts to see some significant changes. Hall would like to see a traffic light with an audio signal at the intersection of Main and Third Streets. She is also concerned that drivers are allowed to turn right on red by the Causeway and the Access Road.