30 January 2023
Tap tap tap. That’s the sound of independence.
That’s the sound of people with visual impairments around the United States – and all over the world – using a white cane to confidently navigate to work, around their neighborhoods or to wherever their plans take them.
There’s no better day to celebrate the power of the white cane than October 15 – White Cane Safety Day. It’s the day set aside by the federal government to recognize the independence and skill of people who use white canes. It’s also a reminder that laws in all 50 states require drivers to yield the right of way to people with white canes, even when they’re not on a crosswalk.
In honor of White Cane Safety Day, here are 10 quirky facts about the white cane:
Yes, it’s legal to take a white cane through security at an airport, according to the TSA, but it has to go through the X-ray machine.
White canes are white because of George A. Bonham. In 1930, Bonham, president of the Peoria Lions Club (Illinois), watched a man who was blind attempting to cross a street. The man’s cane was black and motorists couldn’t see it, so Bonham proposed painting the cane white with a red stripe to make it more noticeable. The idea quickly caught on around the country.
White canes are going high-tech. Inventors in India, Great Britain and France have equipped white canes with ultrasonic devices that detect obstacles up to nine feet away. Vibrations in the cane’s handle warn users of potential hazards in their path.
The standard technique for using a white cane was pioneered in 1944 by Richard E. Hoover, a World War II veteran rehabilitation specialist. His technique of holding a long cane in the center of the body and swinging it back and forth before each step to detect obstacles is still called the “Hoover Method.”
Most people who are visually impaired don’t use a white cane. In fact, only an estimated 2 percent to 8 percent do. The rest rely on their useable vision, a guide dog or a sighted guide.
There are actually three different kinds of white canes. There’s the standard mobility cane, used to navigate. There’s the support cane, used by people with visual impairments who also have mobility challenges. And there’s the ID cane, a small, foldable cane used by people with partial sight to let others know they have a visual impairment.
Unless you’re willing to “walk the walk,” you can’t become a certified Orientation & Mobility specialist. O&M specialists teach white cane technique to people who are blind, but to become certified, you must spend at least 120 hours blindfolded, navigating with a white cane.
Today’s modern, lightweight canes are usually made from aluminum, fiberglass or carbon fiber, and can weigh as little as seven ounces. Some white cane users prefer straight canes, which are more durable, while others prefer collapsible canes, which can be folded and stored more easily.
White caning can be fun. The Braille Institute sponsors an annual Cane Quest, where youngsters aged 3-12 compete to quickly and safely navigate a route in their community using their white canes. The contest helps kids master proper white cane techniques and encourages independence.
In some states, it’s illegal for a person who is not legally blind to use a white cane to gain right-of-way while crossing a street. Get caught in Florida, for example, and you’ll face second-degree misdemeanor charges and up to 60 days in prison.
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