A white cane is used by many people who are blind or visually impaired. Its primary uses are as a mobility tool and as a courtesy to others, but there are at least five varieties, each serving a slightly different need.
- Long Cane: This "traditional" white cane, also known as a "Hoover" cane, after Dr. Richard Hoover, is designed primarily as a mobility tool used to detect objects in the path of a user. Cane length depends upon the height of a user, and traditionally extends from the floor to the user's sternum. Some organisations favor the use of much longer canes.
- Guide Cane: This is a shorter cane - generally extending from the floor to the user's waist - with a more limited mobility function. It is used to scan for kerbs and steps. The guide cane can also be used diagonally across the body for protection, warning the user of obstacles immediately ahead.
- Identification Cane (or Symbol Cane in British English): The ID cane is used primarily to alert others as to the bearer's visual impairment. It is often lighter and shorter than the long cane, and has no use as a mobility tool.
- Support Cane: The white support cane is designed primarily to offer physical stability to a visually impaired user. By virtue of its colour, the cane also works as a means of identification. This tool has very limited potential as a mobility device.
- Kiddie Cane: This version works the same as an adult's Long Cane but is designed for use by children.
White canes can be either collapsible or straight, with both versions having pros and cons. The National Federation of the Blind in the United States affirms that the lightness and greater length of the straight canes allows greater mobility and safety, though collapsible canes can be stored with more ease, giving them advantage in crowded areas such as classrooms and public events.
In 1921 James Biggs, a photographer from Bristol who became blind after an accident and was uncomfortable with the amount of traffic around his home, painted his walking stick white to be more easily visible.
In 1931 in France, Guilly d'Herbemont launched a national white stick movement for blind people. On February 7, 1931, Guilly d'Herbemont symbolically gave the first two white canes to blind people, in the presence of several French ministers. 5,000 more white canes were later sent to blind French veterans from World War I and blind civilians.
In the United States, the introduction of the white cane is attributed to George A. Bonham of the Lions Clubs International. In 1930, a Lions Club member watched as a man who was blind attempted to cross the street with a black cane that was barely visible to motorists against the dark pavement. The Lions decided to paint the cane white to make it more visible. In 1931, Lions Clubs International began a program promoting the use of white canes for people who are blind.
The long cane was improved upon by World War II veterans rehabilitation specialist, Richard E. Hoover, at Valley Forge Army Hospital. In 1944, he took the Lions Club white cane (originally made of wood) and went around the hospital blindfolded for a week. During this time he developed what is now the standard method of "long cane" training or the Hoover Method. He is now called the "Father of the Lightweight Long Cane Technique." The basic technique is to swing the cane from the center of the body back and forth before the feet. The cane should be swept before the rear foot as the person steps. Before he taught other rehabilitators, or "orientors," his new technique he had a special commission to have light weight, long white canes made for the veterans of the European fronts.
On October 6, 1964, a joint resolution of the Congress, HR 753, was signed into law authorizing the President of the United States to proclaim October 15 of each year as "White Cane Safety Day". President Lyndon Johnson was the first to make this proclamation.
Legislation about canes
While the white cane is commonly accepted as a "symbol of blindness", different countries still have different rules concerning what constitutes a "cane for the blind".
In the United States, laws vary from state to state, but in all cases, those carrying white canes are afforded the right-of-way when crossing a road. They are afforded the right to use their cane in any public place as well. In some cases, it is illegal for a non-blind person to carry a white cane.
Comparison to guide dogs
While a guide dog, the other major mobility aid for blind people, can interact more with the user and the environment, making them more useful in certain locations, white canes are alternatives for reasons of price, care, and in case of some people, allergies. Despite the high profile of guide dogs, however, most blind people still use canes at least sometimes, and many still use canes entirely.
Children and canes
In many countries, including the UK, a cane is not generally introduced to a child until they are between 7 and 10 years old. However, more recently canes have been started to be introduced as soon as a child learns to walk to aid development with great success.
Joseph Cutter and Lilli Nielsen, pioneers in research on the development of blind and multiple-handicapped children, have begun to introduce new research on mobility in blind infants in children. Cutter's book, Independent Movement and Travel in Blind Children, recommends a cane to be introduced as early as possible, so that the blind child learns to use it and move around naturally and organically, the same way a sighted child learns to walk. A longer cane, between nose and chin height, is recommended to compensate for a child's more immature grasp and tendency to hold the handle of the cane by the side instead of out in front. Mature cane technique should not be expected from a child, and style and technique can be refined as the child gets older.
- Nichols, Allan (1995), Why Use the Long White Cane?, archived from the original on 2010-03-30
- Kelley, Pat (1999). "Historical Development of Orientation and Mobility as a Profession". OrientationAndMobility.org. Retrieved 20 January 2012.
- Bailly, Claude (1990), Les débuts de la canne blanche, l'Auxilaire des aveugles (in French), retrieved 20 January 2012
- White Cane DayArchived October 27, 2002 at the Wayback Machine
- Koestler, Frances A. "Historical Chronologies , The Unseen Minority: A Social History of Blindness in the United States". American Printing House for the Blind. Retrieved 20 January 2012.
- Weiner, W.R., Welsh, R.L., & Blasch, B. B. (Eds.). (2010), Foundations of orientation and mobility (3rd ed., Vol. I), ISBN 978-0-89128-448-2[page needed]
- http://www.nfb-nagdu.org/laws/usa/usa.htmlArchived October 10, 2003 at the Wayback Machine
- http://www.worldaccessfortheblind.org/sites/default/files/Facilitating_Movement.pdf[page needed]
- Cutter, Joseph (2007), Independent Movement and Travel in Blind Children, ISBN 1-59311-603-9[page needed]
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