"While it was not uncommon throughout history for blind people to use a stick or cane to navigate, society largely didn't accept that blind people could travel by ourselves until recently. In the 1960s, the National Federation of the Blind became a leader in fighting for the rights of the blind and in pioneering innovative training programs using the white cane. At our urging, the United States Congress adopted a joint resolution in 1964 designating October 15 of each year as White Cane Safety Day and recognizing that white canes enable blind people to travel safely and independently.
While the white cane does keep blind people safe (because drivers and other pedestrians can easily see it), it is also a tool that blind people use to explore and navigate our environment. For this reason, the emphasis of White Cane Safety Day has shifted over time away from safety, and toward independence and equality. We believe that it's important to celebrate this history and recognize the white cane as the tool that allows the blind to "come and go on [our] own" as President Lyndon Johnson said back in 1964.
To emphasize the shift in focus from safety to independence, and to continue to use the white cane as a symbol, we have chosen to refer to this day as White Cane Awareness Day."
-National Federation of the Blind/nfb.org