Between two and eight percent of people with a visual impairment use a white cane, according to the Perkins School for the Blind. Many of us pass people using canes on the street without giving a second thought to this helpful navigation aid, but there’s a lot more to canes than meets the eye. Here are five interesting facts.
1. There are different types of canes
From the more commonly known, long and (usually) white guide cane, to an identification or signal cane that identifies the user as having low vision but which isn’t used for mobility, the type and configuration of cane is as unique to a person with vision impairment as a wheelchair is to a wheelchair user — including whether the cane folds or not. Cane tips can also differ, with names like the pencil, roller, and marshmallow, each providing different types of feedback.
2. American white cane users have the law on their side
Since 1964, October 15 has been declared "White Cane Safety Day." More importantly, this handy guide from the American Council of the Blind lists the relevant laws of many US states that govern the rights of those who use canes for navigation.
3. Not all cane users are fully blind
As this cheeky video from the Canadian National Institute for the Blind reminds us, many cane users have partial vision. Two billion people in the world have impaired vision, but only about 18% of people with significant visual impairments are categorized as totally blind, meaning that they have no light perception, according to The Chicago Lighthouse.
4. White cane use has a long history
While the American introduction of the white cane for use by the blind or visually impaired is largely credited to a Lion’s club member in Peoria Ill., in the early 1930s (PDF), the movement to establish the white cane as a standard worldwide began when France’s Guilly d' Herbemont initiated the adoption of the now commonplace tool in Europe by giving five thousand away. The first American city ordinances relating to white cane use appeared in the mid-1930s in places like Peoria and Detroit.
5. They’re not all white
A cane with alternating red and white stripes signifies that the user is both deaf and blind. A cane with red near the end indicates that the user has now vision. Of course, this is only what’s typical, the colors are debatable, and some people will use the colors they prefer. Those who prefer some individuality, like UK blogger Holly Tuke, may choose a colored cane that fits their personality. Holly’s award-winning blog, Life of a Blind Girl, tells why she chooses to use a purple cane to express her individuality.