For a person who is blind or visually impaired a white cane is a lifeline. It's what enables them move freely and detect any potential dangers that may lie ahead while walking down the street.
Enter smartphone users.
It's no surprise that Australians love their technology -- we even have more phones in this country than people -- but this love has become an unhealthy and dangerous obsession, particularly when those who insist on walking and texting bump into blind or visually impaired people.
Close to 60 percent of people who were bumped into while using their white cane reported that the incidents were caused by fellow pedestrians who were too busy to take their eyes off their phone, according to a Guide Dogs Australia report.
What's even worse is that in the last two years almost half of all cane users had their canes broken by someone walking into them.
"Sometimes running into someone can just be a shock but other times it can be very harmful, upsetting and disorienting for the person with vision loss, particularly when it results in an injury or a broken cane," Karen Hayes, CEO of Guide Dogs Victoria, said.
"The most common cause for these situations, when it can be identified, is that the other person was on their mobile phone and not paying attention to where they were walking.
"We all have a role to play in helping to make sure people who with low vision or blindness can get around their communities safely and confidently, just like everyone else."
One way to do this is to keep your phone in your pocket while moving about or if that's too difficult, "using more caution by slowing your pace and looking up often".
Tips for assisting people who are blind or have low vision
- It should go without saying but don't be a dickhead -- put the phone away while you're walking in public or regularly look up from it;
- Approach: if you suspect someone may need a hand, walk up, greet them and identify yourself;
- Ask: "Would you like some help?" The person will either accept your offer or tell you if they don't require assistance;
- Assist: Listen to the reply and assist as required. Not all people who are blind or vision impaired will want assistance -- don't be offended if your assistance is not required.
"Many of us have become accustomed to using our mobile devices constantly, but it's something we can easily be more mindful of to help ensure all Australians are able to feel safe and independent," Hayes said.
"Our instructors work with white cane users across Australia to teach them the skills they need to get around their communities safely and independently, but unfortunately there are certain environmental factors, like moving people, that they can't identify until it's too late."