To celebrate White Cane Safety Day on October 15th, I had the opportunity to collaborate with WonderWord word search puzzles to create a blindness cane themed word search that introduces players to common terminology associated with white canes as well as orientation and mobility (O&M) techniques used by Blind and low vision people around the world. Here is a more in-depth look at the words that were included in this puzzle, originally published on October 2nd, 2023.
This post is not sponsored- I did not make or receive any payment for this project. I also did not create this puzzle, but I did play a role in choosing the words that are included in it. Due to space constraints, it’s impossible to include every vocabulary word related to blindness canes and the field of orientation and mobility (especially in a word search!), but my goal in sharing this puzzle is to raise awareness of white cane safety day and how people use blindness canes across a variety of contexts, and perhaps inspire them to learn more about canes from people who use them. As a person with low vision who uses a blindness cane and also loves word searches, I’m excited to see this puzzle come to life!
How to play WonderWord
WonderWord is a word search puzzle that appears in over 200 newspapers worldwide through Universal Press Syndicate/Andrews McMeel Syndication. Puzzles are created by hand and consist of a 15 x 15 grid, with words appearing in all directions (vertical, horizontal, diagonal, and backwards). When a word is found, players should circle or highlight individual letters, as many letters are used more than once to spell multiple words. Once every word in the puzzle is found, the remaining letters will spell out the solution, or “Wonderword”, in order.
WonderWord puzzles can be found in print newspapers, played online via the WonderWord website, or downloaded as a PDF- I’ve shared a copy of this puzzle as a PDF below. Personally, I prefer to download puzzles as a PDF and use the Markup or stylus tool on my iPad to play, zooming in on letters on the grid.
- WonderWord website
- WonderWord Blindness Canes Puzzle (PDF)
- How To Adapt Puzzle Games For Low Vision
- Accessible Puzzle Game Apps For Low Vision
Another note on terminology
I use the terms white cane and blindness cane interchangeably to refer to the mobility aid used by people with visual impairments. I generally use the term blindness cane on my own website because not all blindness canes are white, but laws and policies regarding these types of aids use the term white cane.
Part 1: Blindness cane characteristics
Aluminum is a popular material for blindness canes. Aluminum is generally considered more durable compared to other materials such as fiberglass or graphite, and also is a heavier weight. These are typically used for identification or guide canes.
The ball tip is a rotating blindness cane tip that is shaped like a large ball, and is usually either white or red. The ball tip is great when learning how to use a cane, or for walking for long periods of time without wearing down a cane tip. It can be fairly heavy, so it works best for constant contact techniques where the cane tip is always on the ground.
A lot of people associate blindness canes with having a straight tip, but most cane tips are actually circular in shape, providing a larger surface area for detecting obstacles and other information. Many cane tips are made out of durable polyethylene, though other common materials include silver and ceramic circle tips.
Some blindness canes are collapsible or fold into segments when not in use. Most blindness canes I’ve encountered fold into 4-6 segments and can be stored in a backpack, purse, on the back of a chair, or held when not in use.
Graphite is another popular material for blindness canes, and is considered more lightweight and easier to fold/unfold compared to aluminum. However, it may be more prone to damage due to the lighter material.
Blindness cane tips are typically secured by internal hooks, which are attached to an elastic cord on the inside of the cane. If a user has to switch out a blindness cane tip, they can unhook it from the elastic and then attach a new cane tip.
How long is a blindness cane? That depends on a few things, most notably a person’s height. The general guidance for determining the ideal cane length is to measure from a person’s shoulder to the floor, but some people may prefer a taller or shorter cane.
Almost all blindness canes have a loop attachment on top of the handle for securing the cane to the wrist while in use, or for keeping the folded cane segments in place while not in use.
Two more words that go together! The metal glide tip provides more audible feedback, and is the cane tip of choice for the white canes distributed by the National Federation of the Blind’s Free White Cane program.
The pencil tip cane is a thin, straight piece of plastic on the bottom of a cane, almost like a magician’s wand. It does not provide very much feedback compared to other cane tips and can get stuck in sidewalk cracks easily, but can be a helpful option for people who have trouble moving their wrists.
Blindness canes are coated in reflective tape for traveling in the dark- I was surprised how bright my white cane looked when I took a flash photo of it in the dark. Some of my friends have mentioned that seeing a blindness cane in the dark reminds them of a lightsaber with the glowing effect.
Rigid/straight canes do not collapse or fold for storage, or have any other segments. This can make it easier to detect vibrations and feedback, but can make it more challenging to store a cane in small spaces when not in use. A lot of my friends will hang their rigid canes on the wall or put them in an umbrella storage vase.
Roller/rolling blindness cane tips rotate as they travel across the ground with the constant contact method, which involves keeping the cane on the ground instead of tapping it/lifting it off the ground while traveling.
Some blindness canes are specifically designed for support and providing physical stability, in addition to identifying someone as being Blind or visually impaired.
There are several different kinds of tips for blindness canes that are designed for navigating different types of environments. Some examples of specialty cane tips include the Dakota snow tip (which looks like a frisbee), and a hockey tip or all-terrain tip that can be used for snow or on the beach. Many people own multiple blindness canes that may have different tips for different situations- for example, I have a cane specifically for walking in the snow.
Here are the most common types of blindness canes:
- Identification/ID canes are used to find large obstacles such as stairs are curbs, but are generally used to alert others to the fact that the user has trouble seeing.
- Probing canes/white canes/long canes are used to detect obstacles and allow the user to get information about the environment around them
- Support canes provide physical stability and often have broader handles that are easier to grasp.
- WonderWord Blindness Canes Puzzle (PDF)
- Decoding The Tips of Blindness Canes
- Twelve Blindness Cane Storage Solutions
- Five Questions To Ask When Buying A Blindness Cane
- How I Respond To Children’s Questions/Comments About Low Vision
Part 2: Orientation and Mobility (O&M) Skills
Acronym for Certified Orientation and Mobility Specialist, a COMS is an expert in low vision and nonvisual navigation, and can teach people with vision loss how to use mobility aids such as a blindness cane to navigate independently. A COMS may have vision loss themselves (inclusive of blindness/low vision), or may have vision corrected to 20/20.
One of the important skills for learning to use a cane is knowing how to detect obstacles, such as potholes, stairs, curbs, and similar. In general, users cannot detect obstacles above their waist with a blindness cane.
Learning how to understand directions as well as give directions is another vital skill. There are a few methods that COMS use for teaching directions and orienting someone to a place, but the most important thing to know is that directions shouldn’t include terms like “right here” or “over there”, as these aren’t particularly helpful for someone who can’t see well.
A human guide is a person who provides travel/navigational assistance to a blind person or a person with low vision by helping them get from one location to another. While a human guide is not a direct substitute for using a blindness cane or other mobility aid, there are situations where someone might rely solely on a human guide, or they will use a human guide in conjunction with a blindness cane.
In the field of visual impairment, the term human guide is preferred over the term sighted guide, because a person does not necessarily need to be sighted to be a human guide. There are also non-human guide options for people with vision loss, such as a guide dog.
Walking in-step is a technique for using a blindness cane that involves walking with a sweeping motion. I recommend watching this video from a COMS to learn more: How to Walk “In-Step” When Using a White Cane – Orientation & Mobility Skill – YouTube.
Learning to use a cane effectively requires several orientation and mobility lessons, which can take place in a variety of settings. I received orientation and mobility lessons while living on a college campus, learning to use public transportation, and as part of preparing for a new job. Some people may receive lessons on how to use a cane through a residential or rehabilitation program, such as a vocational rehabilitation center/training center.
Almost all of my lessons were provided free of charge by my state’s department for visual impairment, where I also received vocational rehabilitation services without having to live at or travel to a specialty training center.
In the context of O&M, Orientation refers to knowing where you are and where you want to go, and Mobility refers to the ability to move safely, efficiently, and effectively from one location to the next.
There are many situations that can require people to travel with a blindness cane at night or when it is dark outside, and nighttime lessons are often conducted in addition to daytime orientation and mobility lessons.
It takes a lot of practice to become confident with using a white cane! When I first started using a cane, my case manager encouraged me to practice by walking to stores and classes by myself, and going on small day trips to places like museums or events in the city that required me to use public transportation. Even if I am walking with another person, I will almost always have my blindness cane so that I can also be aware of my surroundings.
Learning the rhythm of how a cane moves can go a long way, whether it is the tapping sound of a cane or the graceful sweeping movement of walking with a cane using the constant contact method.
A lot of O&M lessons involve learning familiar routes, such as how to get to school, work, or other areas in the community like the grocery store, theater, pharmacy, and others. I often use my smartphone as a supplemental tool for learning routes or helping me figure out where I am going.
One of the primary goals of learning orientation and mobility skills is safety. I started using a blindness cane after I didn’t notice a gravel pothole and slipped when walking down stairs on a bus, which led to a broken ankle. Since I started using a cane, I haven’t broken my ankle since, as I can detect obstacles more effectively.
Sensors are a type of assistive tool that can detect objects that a traditional cane cannot, such as obstacles above the waist or other tripping hazards.
People with vision loss often rely on their hearing and audio feedback to localize and identify sound, as well as orient themselves to their surroundings. Sounds can also provide helpful information, such as in the context of accessible pedestrian signals that announce information about sidewalk crossings.
Canes help make it easier and safer to cross the street. Many places have white cane laws that state that blindness cane users have the right-of-way when crossing the street, as well as people using guide dogs.
Tactile pavement is a type of pavement that features raised lines, domes, or other textures to communicate safety information to people who are blind, have low vision, or another vision impairment. Large domes or lines are designed to act as a stop sign, while more subtle lines indicate that a path is safe to walk on. Tactile pavement can be found in indoor and outdoor settings in many areas throughout the world.
Blindness cane users will need to know how to use their cane in a variety of different types of terrain, including natural and manmade surfaces. Users will need to be careful when navigating areas with a lot of small cracks or holes, as cane tips can get stuck in these surfaces. If the cane gets stuck in a sidewalk crack, it can push into the user’s abdomen- ouch!
Orientation and Mobility focuses on teaching travel skills so that people can move from place to place effectively. Using a blindness cane also makes it possible for me to travel on my own, whether that is navigating my school hallways or going on a trip for work or for fun.
A common misconception is that only people who are blind with no usable vision will use a white cane. However, people who have some usable vision may still benefit from using a cane in some capacity- this can include those who have low vision or a visual impairment/are visually impaired. A white cane can serve as a visual indicator to others that someone has trouble seeing.
Using a blindness cane can make it safer for people with vision loss to walk in both familiar and unfamiliar environments. When walking with someone who is using a blindness cane, do not touch their cane or pick the cane tip off the ground to lead them, as this is dangerous and makes it impossible for the person to navigate on their own.
- WonderWord Blindness Canes Puzzle (PDF)
- College O&M series
- How To Be An Effective Human Guide For People With Vision Loss
- Navigating Campus In The Dark: College O&M
- Using GPS Apps On College Campuses: College O&M
- Smartphone Apps For Orientation and Mobility
- Vocational Rehabilitation for College Students
- Services Provided By State Department/State Unit for Visual Impairment
- Fast Facts About Tactile Pavement
- Airport Security and Low Vision
Other sources for learning about blindness canes and O&M
- What is Orientation and Mobility? – ConnectCenter (aphconnectcenter.org)
- A Museum on a Mission – Celebrate Accessibility | APH Museum
- Orientation and Mobility | National Center on Deaf-Blindness (nationaldb.org)
- Orientation & mobility – Perkins School for the Blind