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A matter of White Canes

Created by the Americans, White Cane Day is now firmly embedded in the UK Disability Awareness calendar. Celebrated annually on October 15th, its aim is to increase public awareness, acknowledge and celebrate the abilities and achievements of people who are blind or visually impaired.

I have a vision

Far too often there’s still the misconception of a single type of visual impairment, requiring a single response. An inability to ‘read the cane’, and what it reveals about a user’s level of vision often fuels inappropriate public responses to people with visual impairment; it leaves many worse off, feeling vulnerable and exposed to judgement.

Four of the best

To clarify, there are four types of cane used by people with visual impairments:

  1. A symbol cane: shorter than the others and generally held in front of a user, this is used to let others know that the bearer is partially sighted. They will have low but useful vision; it is often carried by users in crowded areas, such as on the underground or busy shopping streets.
  2. A guide cane: generally held diagonally across the body, this locates imminent obstacles, such as steps or raised paving.
  3. A long cane: this is swept or tapped from side to side by a user, who often will have with no or severely restricted vision; it is used to feel for direction and potential obstacles. As its sweep is larger, it demands greater awareness from other pedestrians.
  4. A deafblind cane: red and white banded, this signals both a combined hearing and sight impairment.

Lady wearing hijab and holding a white symbol cane muscled man with cap holding a pink long cane rasta middle aged women holding a red and white canewomen wearing a suit holding a long white cane

Knowledge is power

Once this basic cane terminology is understood, it’s fairly simple to adapt to the small courtesies which make the lives of people with visual impairments so much easier. Many users will only need a cane to navigate busy spaces, yet sometimes they feel they have to justify this type of use to an uninformed, sceptical public.

Others with useful sight are frustrated by the compulsion of an uneducated public to offer support which isn’t required, undermining their independence. For users with a sight and hearing disability, there’s the worry that the larger public will only ‘see’ the most obvious impairment, and not make the necessary adjustments for a less obvious hearing impairment.

Out and about

The need to constantly explain or justify an impairment is not only frustrating and time consuming, but also means you get tired very quickly. It’s why White Cane Day is so important. A little education goes a long way; it allows blind and partially sighted people to feel more relaxed when going about their daily lives.


For more information about this issue, please do not hesitate to contact Daniel at Visualise Training and Consultancy

About the author

Daniel Williams, the director of Visualise Training Consultancy