How Do I Learn to Use a Cane?

When used correctly, the cane searches the ground ahead of each step. It warns you of obstacles and drop-offs and informs you of what’s in front of you. The correct cane technique, which will provide maximum protection and information, is as follows:

  • Hold the cane with your hand centered in front of your body;
  • Move the cane with wrist/finger movement only, with your arm remaining still;
  • Move the cane tip in an arc that is about an inch wider than your body;
  • Move the cane in rhythm with your feet, with the cane tip always being on the opposite side of your forward foot;
  • The cane tip either slides along the ground (“constant-contact technique”) or touches the ground at each end of the arc and remains no more than an inch above the ground (“touch technique”).

Although the correct cane technique can easily be demonstrated to you by anyone familiar with the technique, it will not provide you with effective protection until you’ve reached the third or fourth stage of learning, achieved with training from a Certified Orientation and Mobility (O&M) Specialist.

The Stages of Learning to Use a Cane

Stage 1: Beginning to learn

In this stage, you are just beginning to understand how to move and use the cane, and you will need prompting from your O&M instructor to maintain the recommended technique.

Stage 2: Concentration required

In this stage, you can move the cane correctly, but only when concentrating on your technique. If you are distracted by anything, such as a question, another task, or being lost in thought, your cane technique will deteriorate and not provide full coverage and safety.

Stage 3: The cane moves correctly without concentration

In this stage, the cane has become a natural part of you, and you can move it correctly even when distracted. At this stage, the cane will provide you with protection and information in most circumstances.

Nevertheless, you can still trip or fall because you may continue to move forward after your cane drops down over a step or curb or makes contact with an obstacle you didn’t expect. This is more likely to occur if you have low vision.

Stage 4: The cane reliably provides information and protection

In this stage, you have reached proficiency. You always move the cane correctly and always notice when the cane drops over an edge or contacts an obstacle, even when

  • you weren’t expecting it
  • you were distracted
  • or the ground looks flat and free of obstacles

At this stage of orientation and mobility learning, the cane provides reliable protection in all situations.