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Celebrating White Cane Safety Day

Bosma Enterprises - 10/15/2020 7:00:00 AM

October 15 is White Cane Safety Day

For people who are newly blinded, the thought of traveling outside of their homes is scary, especially when you’re used to getting around in your community on your own. Vision loss does not have to change that. Clients attending Bosma Enterprises’ Center for Visionary Solutions for the Blind are trained by our orientation and mobility (O&M) specialists to properly use their canes and cane techniques to help them navigate through their community. As we celebrate White Cane Safety Day on October 15, we reflect on the importance and achievements of people who are blind and the white cane as a symbol of freedom, independence and confidence. Click to watch a video of one our clients and the impact of the white cane on his life.

White Cane Safety Day was established in 1964 by President Lyndon B. Johnson to raise awareness of people who are blind and the white cane as a symbol of independence for those in the blind community. Canes have been used by people who are blind for centuries, but the white cane was introduced in the early 20th century as a way of assisting pedestrians who are blind to travel independently. The white cane also helps motorists identify and yield to people using the white cane.

White canes are white because of George A. Bonham. In 1930, Bonham, president of the Peoria Lions Club in Illinois, watched a man who was blind attempting to cross a street. The man was using a black cane that was not visible to motorists. So, Bonham proposed painting the cane white with a red stripe to make it more noticeable. The idea quickly caught on around the country.

Currently, there are three different kinds of white canes: the standard mobility cane used to navigate; the support cane, used by people with visual impairments who also have mobility challenges; and the ID cane, a small, foldable cane used by people with partial sight to let others know they have a visual impairment.
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. In contrast, others may prefer collapsible canes, which can be folded and stored more easily. Since canes are being swept back and forth constantly and used in other active ways to detect things in the environment, the cane must be made of light but durable material to stand up to wear and tear during travel.

However, most people who are visually impaired don’t use a white cane. Only an estimated 2 percent to 8 percent do. The rest rely on their useable vision, a guide dog or a sighted guide (i.e., walking with another person who serves as a guide through an area) in various travel situations and environments. For more info about being a sighted guide, check out our sighted guide video.

People who are blind use different cane techniques, depending on their location or what they are trying to accomplish, such as going up or down stairs, navigating escalators, finding doorways and walking through neighborhoods. However, 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. Other methods include the two-point touch and constant-contact techniques. The two-point touch method is demonstrated by swinging the cane from side to side and tapping the edges of one’s walking path on either side. In contrast, the constant-contact technique is demonstrated by sweeping the cane from side to side and keeping the cane tip in contact with the surface at all times. To that end, not everyone will use the same technique when traveling. It all depends on the person and the environment in which they are traveling.
Having proper cane skills gives a person who is blind the opportunity to participate in all facets of society. Without proper cane techniques, people who are blind are left depending on others to get them around, which causes low self-esteem and takes away from their independence. Once a person who is blind receives proper O&M training, they can move about freely and with poise through their environments. Their lives also become enriched with new opportunities providing a unique perspective in their lives. To learn more about O&M training and Bosma Enterprises Center for Visionary Solutions for the Blind, visit us on the web at www.bosma.org or call our rehab line at 888.567.3422.

If you would like to support the training programs of Bosma Enterprises like orientation and mobility, donate now to the Bosma Visionary Opportunities Foundation.