Blind Stick: What Is It & What to Do When Confronted With One

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Jane Taylor in World News

Last updated: 09 January 2020, 10:04 GMT

Perhaps you have seen someone who is visually impaired or blind walking with a "blind stick" or a white cane. Did you ever wonder why the blind stick is white or how the technique was developed?

Read on for vital information on the blind stick and what to do when you see someone with one.

What Is a Blind Stick or a White Cane?


This is a device that is used to help those who are blind or with visual impairments walk without running into obstacles in their path. This is a lightweight cane, typically made of aluminum, carbon fiber or even fiberglass. Some are straight while others are collapsable and they are typically very light--some may weigh only seven ounces.

Why Are White Canes White?

You have the president of the Peoria, Illinois Lion's Club to thank for that. President George A. Bonham noticed a blind man trying to cross the street. His cane was black, and it was difficult for passing motorists to see it. Bonham decided that canes should be white with a red stripe. He came up with this idea in 1930, and the idea quickly took hold across the United States.

Drivers Must Always Yield

Drivers must yield to someone who is using a white cane--even if they are not at a crosswalk. So if you are confronted with someone who has a white cane, always yield.

Who Invented the Technique for Using a White Cane or Blind Stick?

This is called the "Hoover Method" and was created in 1944 by a World War II veteran rehabilitation specialist named Richard Hoover. He proposed holding the cane in the center of the body and sweeping it back and forth before walking forward. This would discover any obstacles in the pathway.

The cane needs to reach about two steps in front of the user for maximum effectiveness.

The length of the cane is also very important. Generally, for beginners, a shorter cane is used. As experience is gained, the user may progress to a cane that is longer. In general, those who are using the cane for the first time should use one that measures from their shoulders to the floor.

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Interesting Facts About the White Cane


  1. You can take a white cane through airport security. However, according to the TSA, it still has to pass through an X-ray machine.
  2. They can be outfitted with high-tech devices. Some canes utilize ultrasonic devices. This enables them to discover objects that are up to nine feet away. The cane's user is alerted by vibrations.
  3. Did you know that most people who have visual impairments actually don't use a blind stick or white cane? Only 2 to 8 percent do. Most use a seeing-eye dog or even use someone sighted to be their guide. Still, others do rely on their useable vision.
  4. In many states, you cannot use a blind stick or white cane to cross the street unless you really are blind or visually impaired. In some states, such as Florida, such a violation can result in a second-degree misdemeanor and 60 days in prison.
  5. It is possible to become a Certified Orientation and Mobility specialist. However, in order to get this position, you must undergo several hours of intense training. These specialists teach the legally blind how to use the white cane. However, in order to do so, they must spend at least 120 hours blindfolding, using the cane themselves to get around.

Free Canes Are Available to Those With Visual Impairments

It has been a longstanding national policy that these canes be free to any blind person who wants one. For more information, contact the National Federation of the Blind. Eligible people can get a free white cane. The program is available in all 50 states in addition to the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico.

White Cane Safety Day Is October 15

Did you know there is a day dedicated to white cane safety? It was established in 1964 with a proclamation from then-President Lyndon Johnson. The proclamation stated that the white cane has become a symbol of the independence of those who have impaired vision. He also added that the White Cane Safety Day was established "...to make our people more fully aware of the meaning of the white cane and of the need for motorists to exercise special care for the blind persons who carry it."

The day also has an educational purpose, namely to provide the world with more information about blindness and how those with visual impairments are able to work and live independently and still provide service to their communities. Oct 15 is also a day "to celebrate the abilities and successes achieved by blind people in a sighted world and to honor the many contributions being made by the blind and visually impaired."

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Conclusion


White canes, sometimes called blind sticks, are used by those who are blind or severely visually impaired to get around. By using a sweeping motion, users are able to detect any objects within their path. These canes are generally white with a red stripe to ensure that they are easily seen by cars and other moving vehicles. In many states, it is illegal to use a white cane to get the right-of-way crossing the street unless the person using it is actually blind.

Many people have contributed to the development of this technique, and many high-tech canes available today use sonic devices to detect objects that are in close proximity. To those who need them, free canes are available through the National Federation of the Blind.

For information on eligibility and how to obtain one, contact them. While white canes do help those with visual impairments gain independence, they are only used by around 2 to 8 percent of the blind. The most common method of getting around is to use sighted guides or seeing-eye dogs.




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