October 15: White Cane Safety Day

Young man walking on a pedestrian crossing using a white cane

Editor’s note: This post is the first in a series that VisionAware will offer during October to celebrate White Cane Safety Day, now called Blind Americans Equality Day. In this series we will bring you information about how to obtain a cane and the training to use it appropriately and safely.  Read the other posts in the series: Low Vision and White Canes – VisionAware and Free White Cane Training at Leader Dogs for the Blind.

This year will mark the 57th commemoration of White Cane Safety Day in the U.S.  White Cane Safety Day was first officially observed when President Lyndon Johnson first proclaimed the day in 1964. White Cane Safety Day is observed every year with the president signing a proclamation.  This year President Biden signed the proclamation for Blind Americans Equality Day, “to honor the contributions of blind and visually impaired Americans.”  

A person walking on a sidewalk using white cane and support cane; picture of types of white canes
Types of Canes

While sticks and canes had been used for centuries as tools to help blind people navigate safely, James Biggs from Bristol, England claimed to have invented the white cane in 1921. The movement to recognize the white cane as a travel safety tool for blind people started in France in 1931. That same year, Peoria, Illinois issued the first ordinance for white cane travel. Read peer advisor Steve Kelley’s post to find out more about the history of the day and why it was started.  

White Cane Laws vary across the nation. The American Council of the Blind (ACB) has compiled the laws by state.  Most states give the right of way to individuals carrying white (or metallic) canes with or without red tips and/or using a dog guide and the laws carry penalties for drivers who do not follow the law. But be sure to find out about the law in your state. Obtaining training in the use of the cane is strongly advised.  

The Importance and Meaning of White Cane Safety Day 

From VisionAware Peer Advisor Steve Kelley, “Today, the white cane isn’t just a tool used by travelers with vision loss. It is a symbol for members of our community who are blind or visually impaired. White Cane Safety Day is observed annually on October 15 to recognize the many achievements of blind and visually impaired citizens and the white cane as a tool promoting independent travel.”  

Quotes from national blindness advocacy groups about the meaning of the day: 

“The white cane is not only a mobility aid for people who are blind and visually impaired, but it serves as an icon that we are part of society, focusing on our ability rather than our disability.” (Michael Nava, White Cane Safety Day… posted by the ACB.org – The Cane Gang, October 16, 2020) 

“Over the years the meaning of White Cane Safety Day has shifted away from safety 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.”  (National Federation of the Blind (NFB) 

Ways to Celebrate 

President Johnson’s original proclamation urged “civic and service organizations, schools, public bodies, and the media of public information to join in this observance with appropriate activities designed to promote continuing awareness of the significance of the white cane to blind persons.”  

Organizations have taken this to heart and celebrations are held across the nation. Until COVID, these were in-person events. Today most are being held virtually. Here are a few samples across the nation in which you can participate:  

White Cane Day – Celebrate the accomplishments of the blind and visually impaired!—Austin, TX. This event will be held online on October 13th from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. 

White Cane Awareness Day 2021 (auburn.edu)—Auburn AL. This event will be held online on October 15. 

White Cane Awareness Day Celebration | Mass.gov. This event will be held online on October 15, 2021 from 12 p.m. to 1 p.m. 

Find out what is going on in your own state by googling white cane safety day along with the name of your state. If your community is not recognizing the day, NFB has written a sample proclamation that you can use. 

Additional Information 

Read about the new robotic cane being tested by the National Eye Institute.

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.” 

Cane Travel – YouTube—Module on cane travel provided by the Nebraska Center for the Blind and Visually Impaired