One of the common stereotypes I first believed when I was told that I should consider buying a blindness cane is that all canes are one size fits all and that it’s as easy as choosing a random cane online and checking out. However, I quickly found out when I received a too-small cane that wasn’t very helpful that there was so much more to buying a blindness cane than I expected, and that knowing some simple information about how blindness canes are used can greatly impact the usability of the cane itself. Here are five questions to ask when buying a blindness cane to ensure that the best cane is chosen for your needs.
I am not a Certified Orientation and Mobility Specialist (COMS), and I strongly recommended working with a COMS from the state department for visual impairment or vocational rehabilitation prior to purchasing or using a blindness cane for the first time. I cannot make individual recommendations for what cane someone should use, or if they should be using a cane at all. The information provided here is for informational purposes only, and is written from the perspective of a person who has been using a blindness cane for five years and has helped people to order canes independently or choose new canes for their needs.
What will I be using this cane for?
There are two main types of blindness canes, identification and mobility canes.
Identification, or ID canes, are lightweight canes that are not meant to help a user with feeling tactile information and are not typically used full-time, rather they are meant to help identify that someone is visually impaired and may require additional assistance. An example of where someone might use an ID cane is at a crowded event, in an airport, when crossing the street, or in other situations where it is helpful to identify as having a visual impairment.
Mobility canes are more sturdy and have tips that can help users get tactile feedback about what is on the ground around them, such as tactile pavement, stairs, potholes, and other potential obstacles. These canes are frequently used when navigating outside of the home or in unfamiliar environments and are typically used daily or with greater frequency than identity canes. For mobility canes, it is important to choose the right blindness cane tip that matches with how someone will be using their cane- more on that later.
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How tall am I?
Regardless of whether someone is choosing an identity or mobility cane, they will need to know how tall they are so they can make sure to choose the right size cane. Canes that are too large or too small can cause injury or be more frustrating to use- especially if they keep poking the user in the stomach whenever they stop too quickly. The blindness cane handle should reach the collarbone/shoulder blade of the user, though specialty canes may have slightly different sizing. I am five feet and two inches tall, and use a 52-inch cane.
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What method do I use/will I use for orientation and mobility?
There are many different techniques for using a blindness cane, which can be taught by a Certified Orientation and Mobility Specialist (COMS), who has more training on this subject. Each technique has recommendations for what type of blindness cane tip should be used. I use a large ball/marshmallow rolling tip as I constantly have my cane on the ground, a method known as constant contact, as I do not like having to move my arm around a lot and find that this method comes naturally to me. I have an entire post about blindness cane tips linked below for users who want to learn more.
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Will I need to put my cane away frequently?
For people who frequently need to store their canes in a smaller area, I recommend getting a folding/collapsible cane, as they are much more portable and can easily be thrown in a backpack or rested in a chair. I prefer these types of canes over rigid canes, as I find that I am more likely to break rigid canes or trip over them on the floor, though there are many people who prefer rigid canes as they can be more precise. My cane collapses into four segments, though people with larger canes typically have five or six segments.
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What color cane should I get?
While the color guidelines aren’t set in stone, many people associate pure white canes with someone who has no usable vision, canes with a colored segment with people who have low vision, and canes with alternating stripes as being associated with deafblindness. This has been heavily debated in the visual impairment world, and someone isn’t right or wrong for choosing a different colored cane, but this is what is recognized by many different groups around the world. For people looking to further customize their cane, I recommend learning more about custom colors for canes- my canes are white with different colored bottom segments, including purple, pink, and red.
Summary of five questions to ask when choosing a blindness cane
- What will I use this cane for- is it to identify that I have low vision/blindness, or is it to help me navigate a space?
- How tall am I, and how tall should my cane be?
- What method will I be using for orientation and mobility- will my cane always be on the ground?
- Will I need to put my cane away frequently- should I have a cane that folds easily?
- What color cane should I get- should I order a cane with custom colors or use the “classic” white or white/red cane?