Visually impaired persons have called for assistance from both private individuals and the government to enable them acquire affordable white canes. Access to the white cane is still limited among visually impaired persons, especially those living in rural areas, because it is expensive, they said.
The call was made Tuesday during celebrations to mark the International White Cane Day. Organised by the Rwanda Union of the Blind, the celebrations in Ruhango District attracted several persons with visual impairments who marched through Ruhango town to raise awareness on the day and the importance of the cane.
The white cane is a customised mobility tool for visually-impaired persons used to detect objects in the path of a user. Its white colour also helps users to be easily noticed by motorists, especially when driving at night.
The World White Cane Day is marked to increase awareness and tolerance for people with visual impairments. Speaking at the event, several visually impaired persons said they are resorting to the use of ineffective and inappropriate wooden sticks because they lack means to acquire the customised white canes.
Others rely on friends or relatives when they want to move from one place to another. They said the canes, which they described as "a symbol of independence for the visually impaired," are too expensive for many of them to purchase. There are, however, no immediate figures of those with or who lack white canes in the country.
The sticks cost between $20 and $50 (between Rwf12,000 and Rwf30,000) or more, sources said. "Whenever I move (from one place to another), I feel I am not safe. I always think I will collide with someone else or knock something," said Jonathan Karamuka, from Ruhango Sector. "If I had a white cane, I would feel much safer, especially when crossing road or in busy areas."
Athanasie Bagirinka, 54, told this paper he was recently involved in an accident because she did not have a white cane. "I was moving and unexpectedly my stick broke," she said. "Had I had the white cane, I would have avoided that accident. We can't afford to buy them ourselves. That's why we are appealing for support."
Emmanuel Ndayisaba, the executive secretary of the National Council of People with Disabilities (NCPD), said they are in discussions with the Ministry of Health to put white canes on the list of what a community health (Mutuelle de Santé) subscriber can access using their insurance cards.
Discussions are at an advanced stage and could lead to the signature of an agreement in a period of between two to three months, Ndayisaba said.
"The ministry has agreed to provide white canes for those using the community health insurance. We are just working on the last details of the programme and we will sign an agreement soon," he added.
Ruhango vice mayor for economic affairs Epimaque Twagirimana said government will continue to provide utmost support to vulnerable persons. He said programmes geared toward improving the conditions of people with special needs will be continued.