Guest Author - Carla Ruschival
Not just blind people use white canes. Visually impaired and low
vision people also use canes to let others know they have a vision
White canes are not always white. Some are silver-gray.
White canes are not all the same length, the same weight, or even
made of the same material. There are rigid canes, folding canes, and
With so many choices, how can a new visually impaired person know
what is best?
While it is true that many blind people over the years have taught
themselves to travel with a cane, it is far more advisable to seek
the help of a certified orientation and mobility instructor, known
as an O&M instructor for short. These specialists are found at
rehabilitation centers for the blind, in some public school systems,
and at residential schools for the blind. A qualified O&M instructor
is trained to assess the specific needs of the individual student.
Here are some things to consider when choosing a cane:
(1) Length: This is perhaps the most important factor to consider
when selecting a cane. Get one that's too long and it's uncomfortable
and unwieldy; pick one that's too short and it won't find those
steps, trash cans and telephone poles before you do.
The O&M instructor can recommend the ideal length of the cane. Even
though the book says to measure from the sternum (breastbone) to the
floor to find the length of the cane for any individual, the O&M
instructor knows that some people work best with a cane that is
somewhat longer, or somewhat shorter, than the norm. Canes are
generally available in lengths from 44 to 68 inches, in 2-inch
(2) Style: Should your new cane be folding, telescoping, or long and
rigid? Should it be a standard cane, or one of the newer slim-line
First, decide if you want your cane to collapse or be like a long
straight stick. Think about where you spend your time and how you
want your cane to "behave". You might prefer a collapsible cane,
either folding or telescoping, if you want to be able to tuck your
cane away in your pocket or purse during a meeting. Collapsible
canes fit easily in the seat pocket on an airplane; they become
small enough to fit under a chair without sticking out to trip other
people or interfere with their "space".
If you decide on a collapsible cane, you then need to choose between
telescoping and folding. Telescoping canes are in general not as
strong and durable as folding canes.
Next, should you choose a standard cane or a slim-line model? The
new slimmer canes were initially intended to be used by people who
have some vision, but who want to let bus drivers, clerks and others
know that they may not see well enough to read signs or respond to
a nod or a gesture. Some blind people also use these canes because
they are so lightweight, easy to tuck away, and just generally give
a chic look to an otherwise utilitarian tool.
(3) The cane tip: Today you can choose from straight, roller and
marshmallow tips for your cane.
The straight tip is certainly tried and true. It is only slightly
larger in diameter than the cane itself.
The marshmallow tip is just like, you guessed it, a big marshmallow
stuck on the end of the cane. It keeps the cane from poking into
grates or cracks in the sidewalk; its large surface, according to
some cane users, gives you more information about objects than does
the thinner straight tip.
The roller tip is not as large as the marshmallow. It is rounded on
the end, and it can actually roll from side to side as the cane
moves back and forth. Not as big as the marshmallow, but large
enough not to catch in small places, the roller tip is a durable
choice for a tip.
(4) Material: Now let's talk about what the cane is made of. Canes
used to be wooden. Then came the aluminum cane, which was much
lighter in weight but was subject to bending easily when caught in
cracks and crevices.
Today, graphite, carbon fiber, and fiberglass canes are also
popular. These canes are very durable, and are not as prone to
(5) Color: The white cane isn't always white these days. Some are a
silver-gray in color.
A recent addition to the line-up of canes is the glow-in-the-dark
cane. White in color, this cane's special covering emits a soft
greenish glow, helping pedestrians to be better seen at night. The
covering absorbs light from almost any source, and will glow for up
to two hours at a time.
Visit the American Council of the Blind Store to order the new glow-in-the-dark cane, available in rigid and folding styles.
For links to companies and agencies that sell canes, go to Orientation/Mobility here on Bella Online.