PORTLAND, Maine (NEWS CENTER) - The Iris Network in Portland helps blind or visually impaired people develop the tools they need to maintain independence.

Saturday the network hosted its 18th annual awareness walk.

Dozens of people who use white canes or guide dogs gathered in Monument Square at 10 AM and started a mile long walk.

Under Maine's White Cane Law, blind pedestrians in a crosswalk have the right of way when they carry a white cane or walk with a guide dog.

Walkers rely primarily on these tools, but "We appreciate if you tell us there are things in the way," says Merrill Barter, one of Saturday's visually impaired walkers, "Don't worry, we won't be offended.

"I find it useful when I'm traveling around and in airports, walking in downtown Portland," he continues, "when people let me know there is something in front of me that I might not be aware of."

And while they may be cute, "A guiding dog is more of a tool than it is a toy, a pet," explains Elora Hixon, a trainer of seeing-eye dogs, "Leave them alone. You can always ask for permission to pet them depending on the situation but always be aware: They're not there for you to play with."

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