Low Vision and White Canes

Tip of white Mobility Cane with red stripe being Used for Street Travel.

Editor’s note: October 15 is White Cane Safety Day, so this month is a good time to talk about what you need to know about white canes and how useful they are when you are blind or visually impaired. This post is the third in our series on white cane awareness.  To find out about the history of the white cane and how and why we celebrate this day, read our post October 15: White Cane Awareness Day – VisionAware. 

How do I know if I need a cane? 

If you have any type of vision loss, a white cane is an indispensable toolAs noted in our VisionAware article, Does the Cane Have to Be White? – VisionAware, 

“When used properly, a cane can provide information and protection, regardless of its color – it does not have to be white to be effective. Most canes used by blind people are white, but they are also available in red, black, yellow, and blue.”  

There is an important however in the article – “However, only a white cane identifies the user as a person who is blind or has low vision.”  Also, be sure to read the rest of the article for an explanation of white cane laws, which differ in each state. 

Many people who have low vision may not feel they need a cane. O&M specialist, Mary D’Apice, offers an in-depth discussion of why a cane is important in her article Low Vision and the White Cane: A Tool for Fall Prevention – VisionAware.  In addition to fall prevention, she covers topics such as identification as a person with vision loss, obstacle and elevation changes, detection of holes or drop offs as a result of loss of contrast sensitivity or ability to scan one’s environment visually.  

Some VisionAware peer advisors have discussed the importance of mobility in their lives. You may want to read the following posts: 

Amy Bovaird: Mobility Matters – VisionAware 

My First Mobility Lessons Learning to Use A White Cane – VisionAware 

Amy Bovaird Interviewed About Her Book, “Cane Confessions: The Lighter Side to Mobility” – VisionAware 

Audrey Demmitt Discovers the Need for Cane Training

What Kind of cane do I need? 

As noted in the previous section, only the white cane is recognized by state laws. However, many people choose to use colored canes. Also, there two types of canes: probing (more commonly called a “white cane” or a “long cane”)  and support. Read about these canes and what they provide in What Type of Cane Should I Use? – VisionAware. Often these are used in conjunction with each other if a person has orthopedic issues, for example. 

How do I obtain a cane? 

The best and most advisable way to obtain is a cane is through a trained orientation and mobility instructor (O&M), if available in your area.  If you are unable to obtain training in your area, another good alternative is the free white cane training program at Leader Dogs

NFB offers a Free White Cane Program. Through this program, “Any blind individual in the fifty states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico can request a cane for their personal use. Requests can be made as often as every six months.”  You may also want to read The Care and Feeding of the Long White Cane. 

Also, you can buy canes online, like almost anything else. This is not a recommended practice. One source is Ambutech. They provide advice on how to measure a cane but highly recommend discussing this question with a qualified O&M instructor. 

How do I learn to use a cane? 

O&M instructors are specially trained to provide safe, efficient, and effective travel skills to people of all ages. As noted in our article Orientation and Mobility Skills – VisionAware, O&M instructors are certified and trained to provide the following types of skills: 

  • Sensory development, or maximizing all of your senses to help you know where you are and where you want to go 
  • Using your senses in combination with self-protective techniques and human guide techniques to move safely through indoor and outdoor environments 
  • Using a cane and other devices to walk safely and efficiently 
  • Soliciting and/or declining assistance 
  • Finding destinations with strategies that include following directions and using landmarks and compass directions 
  • Techniques for crossing streets, such as analyzing and identifying intersections and traffic patterns 
  • Problem-solving skills to determine what to do if you are disoriented, lost, or need to change your route 
  • Using public transportation and transit systems. 

You can find O&M services by searching our directory for travel/orientation and Mobility.  

You can also check out the structured instruction training centers available through the National Federation of the Blind. 

Additional Information on Using a Cane 

Cane Travel – YouTube