Happy International White Cane Day - by Dr Bronwen Scott
Today, October 15, is International White Cane Day. This day is an opportunity to celebrate the independence and freedom that the use of a white cane can provide to people who are blind and have low vision.
A brief history of the cane
The long cane is a mobility aid that can be used to improve the independence and safety for people with vision impairment as they travel through their environment. Although there are historical records of people using sticks and staffs as an aid to mobility that go back to biblical times, the cane as we know it today originated in the United States post World War II. This is also when the profession of Orientation & Mobility (O&M) began. If you’re interested in more information on this, check out this web page:
Many people think long canes are only used by people who are blind, but in reality, many people with low vision also them to assist with their confidence when moving around. Some people may only need to use a cane in unfamiliar areas, others may only require them in certain types of lighting (night time, for example), and some use them at specific times of day to help reduce visual fatigue. Imagine if you had to concentrate on what you seeing for every step you were taking through the day – that would be exhausting! Using a long cane can help people utilize their other senses more effectively, whilst keeping them safe.
Not all canes are white…..
The long cane is traditionally white, however today we have canes in a variety of colours and patterns. People are free to make a choice around what they would like to use – I know some people who like to use a black cane in shopping centres because of the contrast against the white floor. Others have canes to match their best outfits – even leopard-print! An O&M specialist can help with the discussion around when a white or a coloured cane might be the best choice.
Canes and CVI
For individuals with CVI who are mobile, a long cane can be a very useful tool. One of the common characteristics of CVI is that the lower visual field can be affected. This means that unless you are looking down, you might not see objects and obstacles toward ground level. We also know that environmental complexity can impact how a person with CVI functions in that environment. Using a cane means that the person can keep their head up and use their functional vision in the most efficient way possible, without also having to think about looking for obstacles, steps and kerbs.
Not everyone with CVI will need to use a cane. An O&M specialist can talk to you about that decision and whether it is an appropriate tool.
I’ll talk more about O&M interventions and CVI in later blog posts, but if you’re interested in finding out more, this short video clip from Washington State School for the Blind is a great place to start!