Who really needs the white cane the blind or the sighted

Women using assistive technology
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Did you know that the mobility aid which people who are blind or visually impaired use today known as the long white cane was first used in the early 1900s?

Before we look at the many benefits of using a white cane and why it is not solely for the person with low vision, allow me to shed light on its humble beginnings.

Like most great inventions, it came about from the sheer personal need to solve a problem.

In 1921, James Biggs of the UK had been working as a photographer until he had an unfortunate accident which caused him to lose his sight. Although he retained his desire to be independent, he was alarmed by the amount of traffic around his neighborhood so he painted his walking stick white to be more visible to drivers and pedestrians alike.

Then in the US in 1930, a Lions Club member, George A. Bonham, witnessed a man who was blind attempting to cross a road using a black walking stick.

He observed the dark cane was hardly visible to the traffic and soon after, Lions Clubs International not only painted the man’s stick white but a year after this event, they also began a program for other blind and visually impaired people to promote the use of white canes as a safe mobility tool.

On the other side of the Atlantic at the same time, Frenchman Guilly d'Herbemont launched a national white stick movement.

In a presentation witnessed by several French Ministers, d'Herbemont gave the first symbolic white canes to two blind citizens.

Shortly after, 5,000 white canes were issued to other World War I and blind civilians.

On October 6th, 1964, President  Lyndon Johnson made the first proclamation making October 15th of each year “White Cane Safety Day."

Naturally, the white cane has been redesigned in many ways to suit our modern lifestyle, with a variety of tips, such as:

  • The Pencil Tip
  • The Ball Race Over fit Tip
  • The Rubber Support Cane Tip
  • The Pear Tip
  • The Rural Tip, and
  • The Jumbo Roller Tip.

Who would have thought there were so many options?

But no matter which one is preferred, the white cane plays an integral role in maintaining a person’s safety and dignity when getting around independently with vision loss.

How a White Cane Assists a Person with Low Vision.

It is recommended that, before learning the correct techniques for using a long white cane, people can gain improved confidence by doing a course in Orientation and Mobility (O&M) training.

If you are visually impaired and have been delaying your relationship with a white cane, here are some of the benefits you will gain when moving around on your own.

A white cane helps to:

  • Maintain your sense of independence by learning new orientation skills
  • Boost your self-confidence by being able to respond quickly to obstacles
  • Allow you to make decisions as you gain specific clues about your walking environment
  • Alert the public to allow you a clear path through human traffic
  • Warn drivers to take their time around you so you both continue traveling safely on your mutual routes
  • Enable you to locate potential hazards on the ground
  • Identify steps, escalators, travelators and many other changes under foot, conveying important information that allows you to take your next step with confidence.
  • And of course, Attract a lot of assistance if you choose to accept the many offers by sighted helpers.

These are all practical aspects to using a white cane.

In a previous article, Transform that white Stick into your Wand of Power, you can read the emotional benefits that come when you accept the cane as a strength and not a sign of weakness in your journey into vision loss.

How a White Cane Assists the Sighted.

Using the mobility tool that is now well recognized as a symbol of independent travel for those with vision loss, it is important to recognize the role it plays in the lives of the sighted as well.

A white cane helps to:

  • Ease the pressure from other sighted people when guiding a person using a white cane
  • Sweep a clear path forward for both of you
  • Bring out the compassionate side of people’s nature
  • Relax concerns for a family member who is adept in using a white cane
  • See the positive aspects as an inspiring example of living with low vision in case the sighted person happens to need a white cane one day too.

As we can see, the long white carbon fiber rod is much more than a little white stick for the blind. It can transform the lives of those with low vision and their sighted community.
For a closer peek into one woman’s experience in O&M training, I highly recommend the newly released audio book by visually impaired author and educator, Amy Bovaird, Mobility Matters: Stepping out in Faith.

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