Veronica With Four Eyes

Decoding The Colors of Blindness Canes

My dad and I were getting food last night when someone noticed my blindness cane and asked if I was totally blind. I answered that I have low vision, and then my dad surprised me by educating the person about blindness canes and how the different colors can symbolize different types of vision loss, a fun fact I had shared with him and many others before. I was really excited that my dad was being such an awesome advocate for people who use blindness canes and teaching people about them, and he suggested I write a post about blindness canes and their different colors. So, this post is for you, Dad!

The color of a blindness cane can give some clues as to what level of vision someone has, though some people may choose to use a cane that does not necessarily correspond to their level of sight loss. Here are five types of cane colors, and the meaning of different colors for blindness canes. Read more about how I answer strangers’ questions about my blindness cane at college here, and questions about my glasses here.

First, a bit of cane history

The invention of the blindness cane in 1921 is credited to James Biggs, who was from Bristol, England. The cane was introduced in North America in 1931, and was painted white so that way people would be able to see it easily. Canes became widely accepted in the 1940s after World War II, and in 1964, President Lyndon B Johnson became the first president to declare October 15th to be White Cane Day. This is a very condensed history of blindness canes- read a more in-depth article on the American Council for the Blind website here. To learn more about blindness and low vision worldwide, read my post for World Sight Day 2017 here.

White cane with a red bottom

If someone uses a white cane with a red bottom segment, that typically means that the person has low vision, is visually impaired, or otherwise has some usable eyesight. This is the type of cane that I use as someone with low vision. My specific cane has four segments so I can collapse it to fit in my lap or purse when not in use, as well as a rolling tip that looks like a marshmallow. This is my everyday cane and it goes with me everywhere- walking to class, navigating a building, going to the store, and everything in between.

There is no requirement for how bad someone’s eyesight has to be to use a cane, as vision loss can come in many different forms- my case manager for vocational rehabilitation services recommended I start using a cane right before college and referred me for O&M training. Someone can have 20/20 eyesight on the standard eye chart but still require a cane due to central vision loss, like with macular degeneration. Some people who have no usable eyesight still prefer the white cane with the red bottom, but many use the all white cane- more on that in a minute. Read my essay on my blindness cane for White Cane Day 2016 here.

All white cane

The classic all white cane is used by people who consider themselves totally blind with no usable vision. These are the canes most people think of when they imagine a blindness cane- a long, rigid cane made of fiberglass or aluminum, with a solid metal tip and smooth white finish. Some types of white canes are telescopic and collapse to be about nine inches long, which makes them more portable- no worries about propping up a long rigid cane when sitting down.

The white cane is endorsed by the National Federation for the Blind and people can apply to receive a free white cane at their website here. The white cane has also been the cane of choice for many blind characters in TV and movies, including Isaac in “The Fault in our Stars.” Read more about my favorite Disney character who also has vision loss here.

White and red striped cane

Red and white striped canes look a bit like candy canes and are used by people who are deafblind. This does not necessarily mean someone is totally deaf and/or totally blind, but rather that they have both vision loss and hearing loss. People with vision loss who are traveling with someone who has hearing loss may also choose to use a striped cane.

The white and red striped cane is recognized as a symbol of deafblindness in several countries and by the World Federation of the Deafblind. Learn more about how to approach people with blindness canes and low vision without scaring them here.

Glow in the dark cane

I use a glow in the dark cane for navigating at night when I will be crossing the street or otherwise navigating a busy area. My particular cane has three white segments that glow green, a red reflective bottom segment, and a large rolling ball tip. The cane is not battery powered, but “charges” when exposed to light for several hours, and then glows brightly in the dark. This cane tends to be a bit heavier so I mainly use it outside. Read my post on how my blindness cane has increased my independence here.

Solid yellow cane, or other color

I use a solid yellow cane for navigating at night when I still rely heavily on using a cane indoors. The color of the cane does not necessarily tell people anything about my vision loss, though some colored canes also feature a different colored segment at the bottom or stripes to indicate partial vision loss or deafblindness respectively. The bright yellow color is easy to see and highly reflective, and my particular cane collapses down to a smaller size than my other canes because it has additional segments. My yellow cane also happens to match my band uniform, so I suppose that’s an added bonus! I read an interesting study about different cane colors and driver perception- read their findings here.

My blindness cane has given me tremendous amounts of freedom and I am grateful that I have been able to use it. I hope that this post has taught you something new about blindness canes and their colors.

Decoding the colors of blindness canes. What the color of a blindness cane can tell you about someone's sight loss

5 thoughts on “Decoding The Colors of Blindness Canes”

  • I am blind in one eye. I had a brain aneurysm 26 years ago and at first, I was blind in both eyes, but I had surgery in the right. Now,because of a few retinal detachments, I can see with the left. I have lived in the same town for a number of years, so I know where everything is. It’s in the winter with the snow and ice I struggle with. I would like the white cane with the red on the bottom ,but the state’s Blind Association refused me because I know this town so well.

    • You can order blindness canes online through Maxi-Aids. I use the Ambutech marshmallow tip cane and love it!

    • The state agency would reject you for services (and equipment) because you do not meet the definition of legal blindness, which always is defined by your better eye. As indicated below, you may purchase your own cane. Realize though, that in many states the ‘white cane laws’ prohibit people who are not legally blind from using a white cane, and technically you could be breaking the law. In my 30 years of practice I;ve never heard of anyone actually charged, so you are probably fine using your own purchased equipment. A word of caution – using a cane properly and affectiuvely is not a simple matter and you may still want to seek out professional consultation about it.

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