Stepping Toward Independence

on left--pictures of white canes with red at end on right--woman using long white cane in left hand. and support cane in right hand

Editor’s note: October 15 is White Cane Safety Day and we wanted to highlight the importance of white canes for people with vision loss. VisionAware has covered this topic in many ways over the years, including history and benefits. This year, with COVID-19 still affecting service delivery, Lenore Dillon, VRT and peer advisor, has written about the value of the white cane in regaining independence.

The Significance of Specialized Training

Despite how we feel about change, everyone must make transitions in life. Starting school, completing high school and entering college or work, getting married, and retiring are examples of life transitions. In addition to these life-changing events, some transitions are specific to the individual. An example would be the transition from functional vision to low vision or blindness. Living life with limited or no vision produces fear and anxiety. Vision loss impacts every aspect of life! Many small adaptations need to be made to regain independence.

The good news is that specialized training is available, and it will help with both the physical and psychological steps involved in transitioning. Some of the techniques and equipment used by a person who is visually impaired for transferring into life are easy to understand and bring immediate success. Those techniques are simple to incorporate into everyday living. Most people with newly-acquired vision loss grasp these new techniques quickly and with pride. Still, other adaptive skills, such as the use of a white cane, are met with skepticism.     

Transitioning to a White Cane

One of the many challenges presented by vision loss is the ability to travel safely and independently. Many people often think the days of getting up and going as they once did are gone forever. That is not true!  However, specialized Orientation & Mobility training is required to make this transition safe. Like all other aspects of life after vision loss, techniques and equipment which allow for independent travel exist.

One of the first steps of intervention may be using a white cane.  Unlike many solutions to vision loss, a cane is not always met with an open mind.  I have known people who tried to dispose of their cane.  Others get creative and threaten to put a worm on the end so they can use it as a fishing pole. Some folks may even think of a cane as a four-letter word that needs to be expunged from the English language. I once heard a song called “The Death of the Cane.”  Ironically it was to the tune of “Rock ‘a bye baby.”  I am confident that many people, young and old, had and still have disparaging things to say and even sing about the cane.

Cane Quest

As you embark upon the investigation of possibly using a white cane, make contact with a Certified Orientation & Mobility Specialist (O&M).  O&M specialists are no strangers to assisting you in your quest for information. They will be able to offer personal and professional insight each step of the way.  An O&M Specialist is keenly aware of the stigma and triumph of using a cane.

woman with white cane extended getting ready to cross the street

Questions to Ask Yourself About Travel Skills

  • How are your travel skills? Are you afraid to go out by yourself?
  • Do you feel safe traveling alone? 
  • Do you feel safe with street crossings?
  • Have you found a step or drop off the hard way, meaning did you trip or fall?
  • Have you taken an “unguided tour,” meaning got lost?
  • Do you need to ask questions in order to ascertain information about your environment? 

Questions to Ask Yourself about Adjustment Training

  • Have you had any personal adjustment training since the onset of your vision loss?
  • Have you been introduced to any techniques and/or equipment you thought strange but worked for you? 
  • Can you do anything you could not do now at the onset of your vision loss?     

If the answer to the above questions is yes, consider obtaining vision rehabilitation services. You can find services in your state or locale through the APH Directory of Services.

Testimonials on Learning to Adjust to Vision Loss

When most people start learning how to adjust to vision loss, they are amazed by the results.  I have often heard testimonials like this:

 “I can apply my makeup better now than when I was fully sighted.”

 “Before I lost my sight, I could not even thread a needle; now, I am the appointed needle threader for my family.”

The same type of testimonies can and do exist for using a cane.  Keep on searching.

Questions to Ask Other Cane Users

Meet and make friends with other people who are faithful cane users. Ask, what benefit do they get from using a cane? When and why did they start using it? Did they have a specific event that helped them make this life-altering decision? Ask them to share experiences.  Personal experiences are powerful!


I once knew a teenage girl who was visually impaired and wanted to visit a nearby town to visit a friend.  As she was independent, she did not want to rely upon others.  So, she began investigating transportation options and learned she could take a bus to the next town.  Her mother would only approve if her seven-year-old brother would go with her.  What teenager wants a seven-year-old chaperone?  

She and her brother took the bus; it was a good experience for both of them. In the meantime, she continued to investigate other travel options.  She had previously rejected Orientation & Mobility (O&M) training, but now she thought O&M training and a cane might be a great option. 

Meeting her final goal of taking the bus to the next town was more complex and time-consuming than she thought.  Many intermediate steps needed to be accomplished before she could tackle bus transportation alone. Although traveling to her friend’s house was her final goal, it was the first step in her life of independent travel. 


Transitioning to a cane can be the most agonizing decision of a lifetime. It is worth careful consideration. With proper training, the cane may be the tool of independence that enables you to make giant steps throughout your life.

Additional Information

Listen to Maribel Steel’s Chapter on “Tapping Rhythm” from Her Book Blindness for Beginners and a Chapter in Amy Bovaird’s Book Mobility Matters