ST. GEORGE – The campus of Dixie State College of Utah can be a daunting place to drive, and at times it’s an even more daunting place to be on foot. Such was the case for Valerie Johnson last week, a blind student navigating the campus, who was the pedestrian victim of a vehicle hit-and-run.
Johnson was crossing 1000 East to get to campus and, as she passed between two cars, one of them backed into her. Instead of stopping, however, the car sped off. To make matters worse, Johnson said the main witness, for fear of deportation he told her her, was unwilling to stay at the scene.
Other witnesses were able to note the license plate, and campus police followed up on the incident. The suspect was later arrested and spent time in jail for fleeing the scene.
Johnson suffered a torn medial collateral ligament (commonly the MCL), along with scrapes and bruises from being struck by the car.
Despite her injuries and pain, she carries on with her class responsibilities, her involvement as president of L3, and is the only blind professional face painter in the world.
“They [drivers] really need to be aware,” Johnson said. “That white cane is there for a reason.”
For some drivers the first reaction after such an event is to run, but what a lot of drivers fail to realize is this will only exacerbate the consequences.
Don Reid, Director of Campus Security, said, “When you get 9,000 people four or five square blocks, and everyone is moving during a 10-minute period, trying to get to and from class, accidents do happen.”
Enrollment numbers at Dixie State are on the rise every year, and according to campus security there are almost 4,000 parking passes issued. Without a maximum, this number will continue to rise throughout the year. With the mix of cars and pedestrians, accidents are inevitable. However, mishaps can be reduced if drivers will exercise a little more caution.
Interacting with the blind
Mostly due to a lack of interaction with people who are blind, the average person doesn’t know how to handle this unique form of interpersonal communication.
Milo Waddoups of the Utah Division of Blind Services, who is also blind, said, “People are usually very helpful. They don’t really understand a lot of times how to help, but they are eager to help.”
Waddoups said that the important thing to keep in mind is that you have to do the looking, because people who are blind for sure won’t see you. This is as important in regards to driving as it is to walking around.
One student who wanted to help give Waddoups directions simply took hold of the end of his cane, he said, and took off down the hall. A better scenario for helping someone who is blind is to let them have a hand on your shoulder to follow you, and their cane in the other to feel where they are going.
Fortunately, the community has placed technology around town in order to make it easier on people who are blind. Crosswalks with voices and beeps, for example, might seem like an annoyance to some who don’t need them; but from a blind perspective they literally save lives.
White canes carried by people who are blind aren’t simply a fashion statement; they are there to let the rest of us know to keep an eye out. The best thing we can do is to be aware, be helpful and be careful.
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