If you walked through Market Square in downtown Pittsburgh during your lunch hour on Tuesday, you maybe have received a free sweet treat.
Staff from Blind & Vision Rehabilitation Services of Greater Pittsburgh, or BVRS, were there to celebrate White Cane Awareness Day. They brought with them 5,000 chocolate covered pretzel rods, painted to look like the signature red-tipped white canes carried by the visually impaired.
Erika Arbogast is the President of BVRS, and she said passing out free food is a great way to get people interested and to raise awareness.
“It just gives us an opportunity to place into everyone’s hands a chocolate covered pretzel, which people like,” she said. “[Attached to the pretzel is] a message which explains what White Cane Awareness Day is and what you should do if you come into contact with a person who has a cane.”
Arbogast said often, the sighted aren’t sure what to do when they encounter someone with a white cane. She said the most important thing is to just talk to the person before you try to help them.
“Make sure to ask them if they need help and they tell you no, you know what, they’ve got it, and they’re on their own,” she said.
BVRS serves about 900 blind and visually impaired Pittsburghers each year.
“We teach individuals that have lost their vision how to get around,” said Arbogast. “So a lot of times, if you’re walking downtown and you see somebody walking with the white cane, there’s a good chance they got their training from us.”
Arbogast said many people don’t realize that they can get help with their vision-related mobility problems.
“Individuals who are older, as they get older experience things like macular degeneration and glaucoma and cataracts,” said Arbogast. “People don’t think that qualifies them for services at Blind and Vision Rehab, but it absolutely does.”
The BVRS staff also offered free vision screenings in Market Square today. Arbogast said that at one point, there was even a line for screenings.
They planned to visit local politicians who have been supportive of their cause, and drop in on others who may be unaware of BVRS’s work.
“We’ll be going to the County Executive Rich Fitzgerald’s office. He’s been a greater supporter of our agency, so we take pretzels to him every year,” said Arbogast. “We dropped off some pretzels earlier in the day at Senator Costa’s office who also has been a great friend to our agency.”