Colorado Springs police learned some important lessons on White Cane Day.
As part of the national observance, the Colorado School for the Deaf and the Blind hosted members from the police force at their campus just east of downtown on Tuesday to train them about visual impairments - and how best to approach people with them.
"It's important for everyone to know how to help us without forcing it on us," said 10-year-old Elizabeth Koren, who is visually impaired. Elizabeth has Leber congenital amaurosis, an eye disorder that primarily affects the retina.
For Robin Theryoung, a certified orientation and mobility specialist at the school for 9 years, being visually impaired helps her relate to her students and educate others about the challenges they face.
"This is a great collaboration between the school and the police department and first responders," Theryoung said. "Emergency situations are difficult already, so knowing how to help a visually impaired person can help alleviate stress."
As part of White Cane Day - observed on Oct. 15 since 1964 to celebrate the achievements of people who are blind or visually impaired - police paired off, were blindfolded and then guided by their partners as the students from elementary to high school gave them tips and cheered them on.
The group ventured outside, and the officers realized the world is a much scarier place in the dark. Officer William D. McAllister quickly learned that simple tasks, like crossing a street and avoiding traffic, became much more complicated.
"Your other senses get so much stronger, and hearing all the cars and the noise is very distracting," McAllister said. "Then when I was guiding someone blindfolded, I felt so responsible for them."
All the students agreed that the most important thing to remember is that a visually impaired person doesn't necessarily need help, and their training allows them to know exactly what they're doing.
"A lot of people don't know that the visually impaired have an excellent sense of orientation, so if you just grab them and pull them around, it really throws them off," Theryoung said. "That really takes control and power away from them."
Officer Martin Herrera and Community Relations Officer Robert Wilson said they plan to repeat the training sessions with the school in hopes that all police staff in Colorado Springs will know how to approach and help people with visual impairments.
"Police need to be patient and be compassionate," Wilson said, hesitantly walking through the school's parking lot, blindfolded. "This is a really scary experience and they have to know how to relate."